How to Help Young Children Build Resilience

By Elizabeth Verdick, author of  Try-Again Time

How to Help Young Children Build Resilience

My favorite photos of my little sister’s preschool years are the ones where she has food on her head. Spaghetti, chocolate ice cream, breakfast cereal—anything in a bowl became her hat. She loved to roll in the mud and run in the rain. Coloring, she’d get marker all over her smiling face. Playing outside, she’d fall and scrape her knees—and get right back up again. She was proud of her Band-Aids and would happily pose for photos at her messiest moments. A phrase our parents often said was, “Oh, Suzanne!”

Elizabeth's sister Suzanne

Elizabeth’s sister Suzanne

What has always stayed with me was how Suzanne, who was born with some health challenges and learning difficulties, could laugh at her mishaps and mistakes. She shook them off much more easily than her older sister ever did! She was younger than me—and she was teaching me. Some days I realize that, all these years later, I still have a lot to learn.

My children, as toddlers, were much like their aunt: cute little dirt magnets who fell and spilled and said “Oops!” all day long. Our washing machine was my best friend. I had to learn patience like all parents do. And I tried hard to echo the cheerful, reassuring words heard in preschools: “Accidents happen, and that’s okay!” I wanted my children to grow up understanding that messes and mistakes are part of life. We all make them, and we all have to try again (and again and again). Along the way, we build resilience, or the ability to recover from difficulties and face adversity—to bounce back.

One of my favorite things about my job as a writer is that I get to make books for toddlers and preschoolers. At that age, young children are seeking independence, wanting to try new things and be “big.” I love their take-chargeness. Some of their favorite phrases at this age are, “I do it” or “No, meeeee!” Sure, this tests your patience, but it’s incredibly rewarding to watch your child build physical and mental skills right in front of your eyes. While cheering your child on with a phrase like “Okay, try again,” you help to build the emotional skill of resiliency. That support from you is essential. It needs to happen every day.

I had all this in mind while writing Try-Again Time. This book for toddlers is like a mini-introduction to everyday resilience-building. As young children explore their world and learn new skills, we can support their growing curiosity and independence. Try-Again Time uses phrases that I hope can become part of your child’s daily experiences at home and school. Here are a few try-again-time phrases that let children know you’re rooting for them:

  • “Mistakes are okay!”
  • “Take it slow.”
  • “Each try makes you smarter. Each try helps you get stronger.”
  • And the three super words for children: “I’LL TRY AGAIN!”

This positive language draws attention to the process of learning, not the outcome. When used at home, such phrases offer a continued message of support for your children so they get some practice building their “resilience muscles.” Instead of only offering praise if a child gets something “right” (or close to it), focus on the learning-and-growing aspects of each effort: “Wow, your body is getting stronger.” “Look how you’re solving problems!” “Keep trying—I’m proud of you. Are you proud too?” You’ll teach the value of hard work and of bouncing back after mistakes.

Learning new skills takes time for children—and patience from you, of course. There will be days when you and your child both start to get frustrated. When this happens, you get to be an everyday kind of hero, someone who, instead of showing annoyance, takes a deep breath and makes a point of being a source of calm in the storm. That’s the moment when you can rise to the occasion and say, “I’m here to help. Let’s work together.” Offer a hug, a break, and a “try again” attitude. When you do, you’re modeling the resilience you want your child to build.

Since childhood, I’ve loved stories, and I grew up to be a writer and an avid reader of all kinds of children’s literature. I often say I could live in a bookstore. I earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults, and as part of my educational program I have read thousands of stories for kids of all ages. I believe that offering children both nonfiction and fiction books exposes them to a good mix of “how to” and “imagine if . . .” So, if you’re looking for picture books that touch on themes of trying, resiliency, and bouncing back from mistakes, I’d like to recommend a few that you can look for at your local library or bookseller.

The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Lorena Alverez
A rhyming story that helps children see how to turn a negative into a positive. The “Yet” is a special companion we all have: Can’t tie your shoes? Yet! Can’t ride a bike? Yet! The “Yet” is there to help out anyone who’s still learning but willing to try.

Peep Leap by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello
A rhyming story that introduces readers to a baby wood duck who’s afraid to leave the nest and leap to the pond below, where his family awaits. Reassuring language cheers children on: “You’re braver than you know . . . get ready, get set, GO!” Readers learn the importance of taking leaps to grow.

Y Is for Yet: A Growth Mindset Alphabet by Shannon Anderson, illustrated by Jacob Souva
Mistakes aren’t just mistakes—they’re growth spurts. This book uses the ABCs as a framework to introduce a growth mindset. From Ability to Zany, kids learn new vocabulary that expands their view of themselves as learners.

Elizabeth VerdickElizabeth Verdick has written children’s books for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. She has worked on many titles in the Laugh & Learn® series. Elizabeth loves helping kids through her work as a writer and an editor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and their two (nearly grown) children, and she plays traffic cop for their many furry, four-footed friends

Free Spirit books by Elizabeth Verdick:
Try-Again TimeGerms Are Not For Sharing_BoardBookClean-Up Time


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Early Childhood, Parenting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to Use Mental Health Check-Ins to Address Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis

How to Use Mental Health Check-Ins to Address Students’ Social and Emotional NeedsStudents often have many things going on in their lives that are hidden from view; they may be grappling with traumatic experiences historically, in the home, in the neighborhood, with peers, in academics, or with their dreams and ambitions. Our students are emerging individuals with their own unique struggles. Someone in the school might be aware of their needs but can’t share them with others due to confidentiality. Sometimes students choose to process their emotions close to the vest.

Regardless of whether students discuss their personal trials, we adults need to interact with students without assuming we know their motivations. There might be factors we can’t see lurking behind student behaviors.

In schools, our professional purpose as counselors and educators is to foster our students’ confidence and curiosity. No matter our function, we are triaging the social and emotional needs of our students while they are with us in our scholastic bubble.

The Purpose of Check-Ins

SEL check-ins tell our students a lot about how we value them and want to develop relationships. Checking in with students does not have to be an intense, deep conversation about mental health. Many times, quick and intentional interactions with students help them develop a larger belief that there are people who recognize their existence and care about their well-being.

Laying the Groundwork

The key to student check-ins is consistency. In middle school, it takes about three meetings with a student to get them to trust your authenticity. Here is the pattern of response I experience with almost all students as I am establishing a relationship them:

  1. awkward and quiet with little eye contact
  2. question responses to every question asked by adult
  3. small bits of personal information offered as if testing
  4. excitement to communicate, with classic middle school nonchalance
  5. hook-line-and-sinker buddies with open conversation

Mind you, these interactions are typically around five minutes each—not long at all! Once you put in the work for the first couple of meetings, each subsequent Hello, how was your weekend? How is your mom doing? Don’t forget homework! is more impactful because the student believes you really want to know the answers. Responses from the students are also much more meaningful, and they grow more and more honest and emotionally based as time goes on. How are you feeling today? might then elicit a real and clear emotional check-in so that you can better assess what the student needs to have a successful day.

Recycle Old Habits

One of the easiest ways for teachers to incorporate mental health check-ins with their students is to rethink the way they use their entry and exit tickets. Exit tickets are classroom tools where students answer a couple of questions or provide a short answer before students conclude class. Entry and exit tickets can be used together for data collection on student understanding, and they are typically quick assessments.

Why not make them wellness centered? By getting a check on mood (maybe a sad/happy/indifferent scale for students to choose from) when students come into and leave the room, teachers can see what they may be combatting during instruction, as well as collect accountability data about the classroom environment’s impact on student feelings.

Quick check-in questions can include asking students what they need, how their evening went, how frustrated they were with their homework, whether they have thought about their goals, where their anxiety over an upcoming test is settling in their body, and so on. The possibilities are endless—just be sure to check in on the emotions instead of the content.

Using entry and exit tickets for mental health check-ins will also give teachers an idea of what students need. Are more than half the students anxious about a test or sad about a current event? With the data gathered during check-ins, a teacher would know what kinds of resources could benefit students, such as a specialist (maybe a school counselor or writing specialist) or help with organization or a breathing exercise.

What are some ways mental health check-ins can be implemented throughout class?

Individual Check-Ins: Emphasize privacy and confidentiality with minute meetings or doorway greetings.

Example: Take the last five to ten minutes of class to give students an exit ticket and ask that they bring you their ticket individually to turn it in so you can discuss. You can train patience by telling them to come up one at a time!

Whole-Class Check-Ins: Emphasize general feelings and events all students will experience with digital surveys, hand raising, and reflection charts that can mark either singular periods of time or continuous shifting.

Example: Give each student a two-sided card and instruct the students to turn the card over when they become frustrated during class. You can train self-regulation by asking that students close their eyes and take a deep breath until you can get to them to assist.

Peer Check-Ins: Emphasize community building and empathy building by creating pairs or small groups in which you give students sentence starters with discussion time.

Example: In groups of three, tell students to take turns identifying their favorite and least favorite memory from the weekend. You can train leadership by telling the students to take turns being the interviewer to help the other two students problem-solve their least favorite memory.

Simplicity Is Key

Mental health checks-ins do not need to be time-consuming or require psychological or clinical follow-through. I have so many teachers that have amazing doorway techniques; they make little connections with every student as kids walk into their classroom. They make eye contact, some of them shake hands (pre-COVID), and others say each name with a genuine salutation. These teachers will without a doubt be more likely to then email me when their students have settled into an assignment and let me know who could use further assistance.

Taking time to lay the groundwork for student relationships will lead to more meaningful interactions. Even when a student shoos you away, keep at it! When you show a student you truly care about how they are doing, instead of asking on a whim or as part of the job of an adult, they will feel safer about really opening up to you. This type of deeper connection gives you a much better read on how the student is truly handling their day, week, or year.

Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student TraumaStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

Responding to Student TraumaStephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Counselor's Corner | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Win Stress Management Resources for Kids!

Win stress management resources for kids!

This month we are giving away six books that help kids of all ages cope with stress, including Name and Tame Your Anxiety, brand new for spring! One lucky reader will win:

Worries Are Not Forever BBPut Your Worries AwayStress Can Really Get On Your NervesName and Tame Your Anxiety: A Kid's Guide





Rx for Stress In a Jar

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you help kids manage stress and anxiety.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, May 21, 2021.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around May 24, 2021, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim the prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winners must be US residents, 18 years of age or older.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Free Spirit News | Tagged , , , | 148 Comments

2021 Black Voices in Children’s Literature Writing Contest

All children deserve to see themselves and their lives represented in books. To help make that happen, Free Spirit has partnered with Strive Publishing to bring you the Black Voices in Children’s Literature Writing Contest, now in its third year and expanding eligibility to the Midwest region!

In case you missed it, the winner of the 2019 contest was Mélina Mangal, whose book Jayden’s Impossible Garden published this March. Timeless and vibrant, this story highlights the beauty of intergenerational relationships and the power of imagination and perseverance in bringing the vision of a community garden to life. The second-place winner of the 2019 contest was Marit Woods, whose book Who Loves Malik? will be published April 2022. And you can find all the winners and their stories from the 2020 contest in our announcement post here.

Entries are accepted from May 10, 2021 through September 20, 2021. Details on how to enter can be found at

The Black Voices in Children’s Literature writing contest is open to Black authors who are:

  • at least 18 years of age
  • residing in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, or Wisconsin

Eligible entries will include original fiction or nonfiction board books for ages 0–4 (50–125 words) and picture books for ages 4–8 (300–800 words) featuring contemporary, realistic Black characters and culture and focusing on one or more of the following topics:

  • character development
  • self-esteem
  • diversity
  • getting along with others
  • engaging with family and community
  • other topics related to positive childhood development

And don’t forget! There are awards and cash prizes.

We will be awarding first-, second-, and third-place prizes.

First Place:

  • $1,000 cash prize
  • a T-shirt from Strive
  • a tote bag from Free Spirit
  • a meeting with Mary Taris, founder of Strive, and an editor from Free Spirit to discuss the winner’s project
  • serious consideration for publication by Free Spirit, cobranded with Strive (publication is not guaranteed)

Second Place:

  • $500 cash prize
  • a T-shirt from Strive
  • a tote bag from Free Spirit

Third Place:

  • $250 cash prize
  • a T-shirt from Strive
  • a tote bag from Free Spirit

The deadline for submitting entries is September 20, 2021. Guidelines, judging criteria, and submission information can be found at

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Free Spirit News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resolving Conflicts in Early Childhood Education: Sweat the Small Stuff

By Chris Amirault, Ph.D., and Christine Snyder, M.A., coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators

The old adage “don’t sweat the small stuff” advises that we shouldn’t invest a lot of time or energy in matters that seem insignificant—a good tactic when you spill a glass of milk at dinner or miss your turn when you’re driving. In those moments, it certainly makes sense to give yourself some grace and move on!

But when it comes to conflict in the workplace, we actually recommend that you DO invest time and energy into small situations. And here’s why.

Resolving Conflicts in Early Childhood Education: Sweat the Small Stuff

Small stuff, when ignored, can return like a boomerang.

Have you noticed that, when you think to yourself, “Just let it go,” “it” won’t let go of you? And even when “it” does let go of you, that’s a temporary situation: out of the blue it can reappear in a flash! Your colleague not refilling the soap dispenser; the classroom next to you hoarding the washable markers; another classroom leaving the playground a mess after they’ve used it: these might seem like little things that can be shrugged off, but the fact that they bothered you in the first place is important to recognize. Those moments can tell you a lot about your temperament, helping you see your inclination to engage in or to avoid different sorts of conflicts.

So when we shrug off these moments only to have them return in one form or another, our brains may be adding them up to make a case against the other person involved in your conflict. Maybe next time it’s the baby wipes not being refilled or someone hoarding all the floor puzzles. As these tiny little things keep creeping back up unaddressed, we start to develop an “always” mindset, where one or two behaviors accumulate to form a core component of someone else’s identity: “They always leave things out”; “they always take more than their share.” And that means the stuff is no longer small.

Small stuff very quickly becomes big stuff.

Do you remember as a kid when you wanted to go outside but your parents said you had to clean your room first? So you quickly shoved all your stuff under the bed or in the closet, out of sight, out of mind! Until…stuff would no longer fit under the bed or in the closet and it all just came spilling out. Whether you wanted to or not, you had to deal with it.

Conflict is like that. We may think we can just tuck away the small stuff, but it piles up. Over time, that pile can become overwhelming, making it hard to sort all of the components out and determine where to start. What’s more, if we’re honest with ourselves, in reflection we probably will face the guilt of knowing that we contributed to the mess by not dealing with it in the first place. Addressing small conflicts as they pop up can be more manageable, more focused, less time consuming, and less emotionally exhausting.

Small stuff is very rarely small stuff.

Our measuring stick is often way, way off in conflict! We try to tell ourselves that it’s not a big deal when someone comes back from break a few minutes late or returns a set of materials with a few parts missing. But if we let ourselves process for a moment why this feels even a tad frustrating, we often find that our feelings run deeper than we first think. The “small” part is the tip of the iceberg, what we can see. But there’s a whole lot underneath the surface that we can’t ignore.

In particular, the seemingly small stuff can actually be really big stuff when it rubs against our core values or identity. These kinds of “small” moments can bring up feelings of disrespect, invisibility, or disregard, and those feelings are never small, making the moments that triggered them truly huge! So it’s crucial to address small stuff quickly, directly, and intentionally while recognizing and holding gently the deep stuff that lies underneath. Feelings of disrespect and mistrust can quickly be repaired when all situations are treated as being important to the work and to maintaining a healthy professional relationship.

Small stuff builds relationships.

Let’s be honest: when you make a tiny misstep and find out that someone is frustrated with you, more often than not your response is, “Why didn’t they say something? I could’ve done something differently!” For the most part, we all mean well and want to do right by each other. We can do that best when someone gently points out that we’ve hurt or inconvenienced them rather than waiting until we’ve done it several times over the course of a year.

When small stuff is left to fester over time, it drives a wedge between people and damages the relationship that’s essential to resolving the conflict. Addressing small issues reduces tension, and those conversations give all parties the ability to maintain a shared trust that we are all here to do good things for children and we genuinely respect one another.

Small stuff practice builds our skills for navigating the big stuff.

Finally, small stuff reminds us that, no matter how hard we try and how much we practice, there’s no way to avoid conflict altogether. What we can do is develop our ability to be IN the conflict, and the best way to build that muscle is to practice with the small stuff. The risks are lower; the issues less expansive. Developing our ability to be in conflict in the small moments allows us to show up to the big moments with a tool kit and a basis of trust in our relationships that will get us through the tough stuff a little easier.

We encourage you to continue the practice of carefully giving energy to life’s little mishaps. Shrug it off when someone in line at the grocery store gets in the “10 or fewer” line with 11 items! But DO seize the moment to develop your skills being IN conflict when there is a tiny misunderstanding or miscommunication in your workplace. It may be uncomfortable but when the really hard stuff pops up, you’ll be glad you have the practice and foundation of conflict resolution skills to lean on.

Chris AmiraultChris Amirault, Ph.D., is the school director of Tulsa Educare MacArthur in Oklahoma, and for more than three decades has dedicated himself to high-quality education, teaching courses and facilitating workshops on early childhood education, conflict, assessment and instruction, ethics and professionalism, challenging behavior, family engagement, antibias education, and equity. Prior to his arrival in Tulsa, he lived in Mexico, working as a consultant focusing on organizational culture, change management, and QRIS system design in Oregon, Rhode Island, and California.

For thirteen years prior to that, he served as executive director of the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center affiliated with Brown University in Rhode Island. During that time, he also taught early childhood education and development courses for area colleges and universities and served as a mentor and coach for providers throughout the community.

Author Christine SnyderChristine M. Snyder, M.A., has worked in early childhood education since 1999 as a teacher, center director, author, and trainer/coach. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in child development. She is currently director of the University of Michigan Health System Children’s Center and assistant professor in the college of education at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.

Previously, she was an early childhood specialist at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she focused on developing professional learning for teachers and curriculum for preschoolers and infants/toddlers. She facilitates training throughout the United States, internationally, and online, and has published several books, articles, training DVDs, and other classroom resources for teachers. She lives in Michigan.

Finding Your Way Through ConflictChris and Christine are coauthors of Finding Your Way Through Conflict: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2021 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Bullying Prevention & Conflict Resolution, Early Childhood | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment