from Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School Director

Editor’s Note: Periodically, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from members of the administrative team. We hope you will enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

Being a parent means wearing a million and one hats, managing endless lists of appointments, practices, and playdates, all while working hard to instill what we believe are all of life’s most important lessons. As they say, the days are long, and the years are short. And while we’re wrapped up in the day-to-days, it can be easy to find ourselves, as grown-ups, running on autopilot, giving very little thought to our well-being and sense of balance and awareness. When we arrive in these moments, tending to others’ needs before our own, it can lead to frustration, feelings of anxiousness, maybe even loneliness and disconnection, or worse, a sense of spinning and dysregulation that lends itself to burnout and exhaustion.

Parenting is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging adventures of adult life. To be sure, navigating our young people’s lives while attempting to find balance in our own and to model what it means to be a wholly authentic person, a kind human being, and a productive citizen requires, too, a commitment to caring for ourselves, developing skills to process emotions, and sharing fully our own learning and growth, even when we mess up. Ashley Cooper, MPA school counselor, always speaks from an affirming position about emotions and emotional regulation, reminding us that “all emotions are normal and deserve to be acknowledged.” This is why, today, as we make our way through fall and into the busy holidays, the dimmer days of winter, and more rigorous days of school, I’m writing to you, parents and caregivers, to remind you of the importance of caring for yourself emotionally and mentally. Moreover, I hope to illuminate the importance of self-care as a means by which you may teach your young people, through living, intentional modeling, and purposeful discussion, how to develop healthy and proactive skills to practice positive emotional regulation.

Children whose parents have positive levels of emotional regulation are more likely to experience higher self-efficacy with processing emotions themselves. Kristin Weir (2023) writes for the American Psychological Association about emotional development in children:

Children develop those [emotional regulation] skills at different times … Their ability to manage negative feelings depends on genetics, their natural temperament, the environment they grow up in, and outside factors like how tired or hungry they are. But parents, teachers, and other caregivers all play a critical role in helping children learn to manage their feelings. (

It is important to note that there are no fool-proof methods toward emotional regulation, given each of us is unique, has our own life experiences, and our own ability to manage the world in which we live. However, there are a few guideposts that we, as parents, can practice that support our emotional well-being while modeling, implicitly and explicitly, for our children.

When faced with hurried tasks and logistical chaos, it can be good to stop, take a moment to breathe, and actively tell your busy brain to take a break. This sounds obvious, but it can be a very challenging yet powerful strategy. This keeps us from snapping at our teenagers, from becoming agitated if one forgets their water bottle on the counter or leaves behind that weekly folder. It also demonstrates to our young people, in a very material way, the power of just taking a moment to, quite literally, catch your breath. When our brains are overwhelmed, and our systems are all on high alert, our brains move into stress mode, operating from our amygdala, and our ability to be rational becomes limited. Before leveling consequences, verbally responding from a place of anger or dysregulation, or even responding to an urgent situation, it is good practice to check in on your breathing.

In stressful or emotional situations, especially those involving another human directly, it can be a good practice to nudge yourself into your cognitive brain as it attempts to sneak into the more emotional side of life. While it can be tempting to fall into the emotional trappings of a disagreement at work, a scorned friendship or broken heart, or frustration over a failed test, a response that shifts to your response to a place of observation and distance can help to regulate feelings of sadness, overwhelm, anger, betrayal, and hopelessness. With the shift, you are literally telling your brain to “observe” the situation from a more passive stance, giving yourself literal and figurative distance from the situation, and time to process it in a more balanced way. Young people are particularly well-served to observe this practice and employ it when possible, as they are quick to experience and absorb emotions during sensitive periods of development when their primary focus is their social world.

A parent last year shared with me that he had a paradigm shift in parenting when he realized that his daughter, who had ADHD, was rarely (if ever!) not doing exactly what she thought she should be doing based on his instructions. He continued to offer that while he was often frustrated and exhausted from having to repeat himself, their entire relationship shifted once he approached his preteen from a place of curiosity (asking questions) and generosity (assuming positive intent). The same goes for our grown-up interactions. While we can feel exacerbated, at our wit’s end, short-tempered, or irritated, it can be very heartening to instead respond from a place of “why” and “tell me more.” This approach, as noted above, allows our brain to shift to the cognitive side of things and then infuses a good old fashioned dose of positivity. The bonus is that if you, the grown-up, use this with other grown-ups, you become well-practiced at using it with your young people. When a parent employs a positive, accepting, and open demeanor, they build trust in the relationship. An article on ParentCo notes that children who experience this as a response are more likely to share openly and honestly their feelings. “Some parents unwittingly restrict communication with their child through their behavior, such as overreacting to thoughts or feelings they don’t like or those that question their behavior as a parent.” (

As a parent, partner, colleague, and friend, I have found myself carrying around other people’s “stuff.” What do I mean? Well, I mean worrying about how another person might feel about a decision I make, trying to protect a friend from a negative outcome, working overtime to predict (and prepare for!) all possible outcomes to an event, situation, or even a dispute between two people that doesn’t involve me. This can be draining on so many levels. And more, it robs us of presence in our own moments, in our own lives, with our families. Adults, parents, in particular, have too much to manage in their own worlds to be carrying things that aren’t theirs. And this goes double for young people! With each passing year, young people become more and more attuned to the social world around them and, with each year, more connected to other humans. Suppose we as parents limit the noise around us, and only carry that which is ours. Then, we will be better able to regulate our responses to those we care for and about and model for our children what it means to maintain healthy boundaries.

And finally, my favorite, practice does not make perfect, as the old adage may suggest. Rather, emotional regulation is practice. It is a daily commitment to skill-building, awareness-making, and confidence-growing that takes as central a growth mindset. Whether we are 15 or 45, this journey has no destination or perfect solution—only humans working to be in community with other humans. Humans being human in this big, wild world. Parents aspiring to be great 100% of the time, while knowing that if we can get it “right” most of the time, we have cultivated in our children a spirit that will forgive the times we didn’t.

Parents, grown-ups, caregivers, and all those who love and care for young people, my message to you is this: care for yourselves, too. Tending to your own needs, cultivating positive emotional responses, and modeling what it is to be a resilient human are forms of teaching and guidance that cannot be underestimated. And when young people are cared for by healthy, balanced adults, we all are better for it.

Be well. Take care of each other.

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