April Poindexter of Goddard Systems On How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected

An interview with Pirie Jones Grossman

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

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Cultivate connections with your village. Parenting is tough. Having a network of family and close friends who can also pour into your children and fulfill their needs in other ways is critical. Whether that’s a basketball coach, a beloved teacher, grandparents or the cool aunt, the love and attention children receive from relationships outside of the parental role builds children’s self-esteem and affirms their identity.

Parenting is challenging. We all try so hard to give our all to our children. We desperately want them to feel loved and connected. But somehow there is often a disconnect. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, or that we don’t seem to speak the same language as our children, or just all of the “disconnection” that our kids are dealing with in today’s frenetic world. What are steps that parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? As a part of our series about “How to Raise Children Who Feel Loved and Connected” we had the pleasure to interview Dr. April Poindexter.

Dr. April Poindexter is the director of early childhood education programs at Goddard Systems. In her role, she oversees the development of The Goddard School’s proprietary educational programming and curriculum. Her experience and expertise in the field of early childhood education were affectionately shaped by her career as an elementary classroom teacher, instructional specialist, trainer, coach and franchise education consultant. Her research interests include writing practices and pedagogy, children’s literature, critical literacy, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belongingness. Her research on how Black upper-middle class children experience writing in school spaces was recognized for equity-centered implications and research excellence. She holds a Ph.D. in teaching and learning with a concentration in language and literacy education, as well as a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know a bit about you. Can you tell us your “childhood backstory?”

I grew up in a military family and was fortunate enough to be immersed in peer groups of diverse backgrounds. My family is very close. I talk to them almost every day and we believe in going the extra mile to help anyone in need. My parents were always supportive of my dreams and goals. The core tenets of who I was growing up remain true for me today. Whenever my mom visits, she laughs because there’s usually a check-marked “to-do” list lying somewhere in sight. She says it’s exactly who I was when I was a little girl. I have always been goal-oriented and incredibly driven to accomplish the dreams and goals I set for myself. As a child, I attended seven different elementary and middle schools before entering high school. Looking back, I think this speaks to why I am not afraid to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

Sure! There are questions I ask myself on a regular basis to guide my decisions and next steps surrounding my career. Does the work that I’m engaging in day after day feel meaningful? Am I contributing to others? Am I fulfilled by this work? Am I still learning and growing in this role? I have found that if these questions can all be answered in the affirmative, then I am often right where I am supposed to be.

When I was in third grade, I was obsessed with my teacher. She cultivated a love of teaching and learning in me. I knew without hesitation from the time I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a teacher. At the time, teaching checked all my guiding questions, and I began my formal career as a classroom teacher right out of college. After 10 years in the classroom, and a lot of reflection, I realized I was deep in my comfort zone. I knew if I wanted to continue to grow and develop as an educator, I was going to have to shake things up for myself. This realization led me to begin two new journeys in the same year. First, I enrolled in a doctoral program. Second, I accepted a leadership role at my school to support the faculty in instructional planning, coaching and professional development. While I loved working directly with children, the decision to move out of the classroom helped me to better understand the needs of the entire teaching staff and the myriad of factors that went into leading a successful school. I built on this expertise as I moved into an education consultant position in the preschool franchising industry. I had the opportunity to consult with franchisees and leadership teams across the country to support and grow their businesses by focusing on effective education practices.

Today, I am thrilled to lead to the education programming and curriculum development across more than 600 Goddard Schools. My sister always says, “teamwork makes the dream work.” I take this to heart every day. I work alongside a team of dynamic, creative individuals who are just as motivated and passionate as I am about creating truly impactful early learning experiences for children and families.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you explain to us why it is so important to forge a strong connection with our children?

We are all social beings. From the moment we’re born, our instincts prompt us to seek connection with others. Forging connections with our children helps to meet their social-emotional needs and is critical to their self-worth. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is foundational to early childhood learning principals. This theory posits that children indeed must have a sense of belongingness, connection, family and friendships in order to strive toward positive self-esteem and respect for self and others.

What happens when children do not have that connection, or only have a weak connection?

When children do not have this sense of meaningful connection with their parents or loved ones, they may struggle with self-worth and self-esteem. They may find difficulty in building and maintaining close relationships with others.

Do you think children in this generation are less likely to feel loved and connected? Why do you feel the way you do?

It’s interesting to reflect on the way child-rearing practices shift overtime with each generation. Parenting approaches are continually defined and reshaped by culture, social practices and research. The Covid-19 pandemic created a collective desire for more connection. Many parents expressed gratefulness for the extended time they were afforded with their children and families during quarantine. The pandemic also influenced many parents to reevaluate how they were spending their time before the pandemic. Because of that, time with our children may be even more prioritized today, allowing for greater and more purposeful connection.

We live in a world with incessant demands for our time and attention. There is so much distraction and disconnection. Can you share with our readers five steps parents can take to help their children feel loved and connected? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

Model what matters. Things like making eye contact when you’re talking to your child, kneeling to their level when speaking, using gentle and kind tones when they are hurt or scared, and physical touch such as hugs, cuddles and holding hands may seem simple, but they offer children powerful examples of what love and connection look and feel like. If you want to gain insight into how love and connection are perceived by your child, observe how your child responds to a friend who is hurt or how they care for a baby doll.

Be vulnerable. Show the real you. Let your child know you are human too. This might mean they see tears when you are sad or you verbalize when you’re feeling nervous or worried about something. If you’re in a silly or joyful mood, share that with them. Being vulnerable with your children can help you form more authentic connections because they see you in a fuller, more dynamic way. When I was preparing for my interview with Goddard Schools, I told my six-year-old daughter that I was feeling nervous. I shared with her that I really wanted this new role, and I asked if she would help me. It was amazing to see my daughter lean into a coaching role — encouraging me, asking practice questions — “Do you like spaghetti? What’s your favorite color? What do you like to do?” Thankfully, I answered all the questions with flying colors and right before bed, my daughter shared that I was going to do great in my interview and to just do my best. I saw how my vulnerability with her prompted opportunities for her to display emotional responses such as empathy, compassion and leadership.

Be present. I was sitting at a stop light a few days ago, running between my daughter’s dance practice and making dinner, and I saw a sign flashing on a marquee that read, “There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Take three to tell someone you love them.” It made me think about how busy parents are today. After school and before bed offer a tiny window of time to spend time together in the evening (and much of that is filled with enrichment activities, dinner, bath and bedtime routines). Fortunately, for children, love and connection are fostered in the spaces of the everyday. The way we talk with them, laugh with them, share a meal with them and spend time together in those daily routines matter to children. Vacations are wonderful and leisurely weekends are worth their weight in gold, but those are not the only opportunities to plug in and be present. Take advantage of the day-to-day moments because that’s where the magic happens.

See the world from your child’s point of view. My daughters have recently taken to “playing school.” My two-year old gets to be “the student,” my six-year-old plays the role of “the mom” and I am typically assigned the role of “the teacher,” where my two-year-old insists that I be called Miss Appleberry. (If you know you know.) Role play is a fascinating way to understand children’s perceptions of the world and all the implicit and explicit messages children receive. I love this game because I get to see my youngest daughter’s perceptions of schooling norms and social expectations and I get to see my oldest daughter play the role of a parent. I’ve learned from watching her that I ask a lot of questions to my child’s teachers in a way that may feel like a slight interrogation. I’ll work on that.

In a recent turn of events, my two-year-old played the role of “the teacher” and I was “the student.” When I asked her to read a book, she was busily scribbling in my notebook and said, “Hold on — I have to finish my work.” These pretend play games help illuminate for me just how carefully children are watching. They are essentially holding a mirror up for us. From these play experiences, I learned that I can be more conscientious about working from home and what that looks like and feels like for my daughters.

Cultivate connections with your village. Parenting is tough. Having a network of family and close friends who can also pour into your children and fulfill their needs in other ways is critical. Whether that’s a basketball coach, a beloved teacher, grandparents or the cool aunt, the love and attention children receive from relationships outside of the parental role builds children’s self-esteem and affirms their identity.

How do you define a “good parent?” Can you give an example or story?

That’s a big question. I think a good parent embraces their child for who they are and loves their child they way they need to be loved. Good parents try their best, give selflessly and still stumble and fall. Good parents are human. Once after a wonderful day of dancing in the living room, reading books, riding bikes outside and just spending time together at home, my daughter told me that I didn’t play with her. I was feeling pretty good about my parenting that day, so I was surprised and hurt by this comment. When I asked her to share why she felt that way, I learned she didn’t see those activities as play. For her, play was being down on the floor with her dolls and figurines and creating elaborate storylines and role plays together. This was a lightbulb moment for me. It forced me to be more intentional about prioritizing the type of experiences my daughter highly valued.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big?” Can you give an example or story?

Like many children, my daughter loves all things dance, theater and musicals. And, like many families, we’ve seen enough Disney and Hamilton in our household to last a lifetime. My daughter will happily trade Netflix for Alexa on any day and spends hours dancing in the living room. For years my daughter has declared with great enthusiasm, “Mom, I’m going to be a dancer when I grow up!” I love this because she has crafted a dream for herself. I lean into her dreams and show genuine interest and excitement. Parents can encourage children to dream big by embracing grand ideas as possibilities. Whether your child expresses an interest in becoming an astronaut or a superhero, ask them to tell you more about the dreams and plans they have for themselves.

How would you define “success” when it comes to raising children? (State of the word)

For me, success in raising children is defined in the type of people we help children grow into. People of good character who are grounded in who they are and the ability to navigate the world with social emotional intelligence and compassion for others are what I consider to be parenting wins.

This is a huge topic in itself, but it would be worthwhile to touch upon it here. What are some ideal social media and digital habits that you think parents should teach to their children?

I love sitting for a few minutes with coffee and scrolling social media with the best of them. But I know my children are watching. Establishing digital habits for children should start with modeling the behaviors we want them to embrace. Being mindful of time spent on social media, expectations around the use of devices and what’s appropriate to share in an online space are key. I set parameters around the use of phones/devices at dinner and prioritize connection and conversation. It’s become such a routine, that my daughters will remind me to put my phone away if I’m sneaking a peek at a text message. For older children, having specific conversations around feeling excluded on social media by way of comments, likes, tagging, etc. is important. Children connect these elements to self-worth and fitting in and should have guidance and support strategies to navigate these spaces.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

One resource that inspires me to be a better parent is my groups of friends and the support we provide to each other as parents. Working, maintaining a household and being present in every way possible for children doesn’t leave a lot of time for in-person gatherings, so we rely on an ongoing text thread to swap quick stories, photos and share disappointments and challenges. Most importantly, we celebrate each other and keep each other encouraged. Secondly, finding podcasts and books that highlight the humor in parenting inspire me to enjoy the ride and not get bogged down in comparison or the idea of perfection.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Something that guides me each day is to find joy in the little things. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to keep so many balls in the air as a mom to young children. Taking time out to spend time in nature or just enjoy a quiet moment by myself helps me to focus on what’s important in my life and find joy and gratitude in everything.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My movement would center on literacy and DEI, two areas that I’m incredibly passionate about. I want all children to see themselves authentically represented in books and hear their stories from voices like their own. When we help children find joy and connection through reading and writing we also encourage them to tell their own stories, speak up for themselves and others and express who they are.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About The Interviewer: Pirie is a TedX speaker, author and a Life Empowerment Coach. She is a co-host of Own your Throne podcast, inspiring women in the 2nd chapter of their lives. With over 20 years in front of the camera, Pirie Grossman understands the power of storytelling. After success in commercials and acting. She spent 10 years reporting for E! Entertainment Television, Entertainment Tonight, also hosted ABC’s “Every Woman”. Her work off-camera capitalizes on her strength, producing, bringing people together for unique experiences. She produced a Children’s Day of Compassion during the Dalai Lama’s visit here in 2005. 10,000 children attended, sharing ideas about compassion with His Holiness. From 2006–2009, Pirie Co-chaired the Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Idaho, welcoming 3,000 athletes from over 150 countries. She founded Destiny Productions to create Wellness Festivals and is an Advisory Board member of the Sun Valley Wellness Board.In February 2017, Pirie produced, “Love is Louder”, a Brain Health Summit, bringing in Kevin Hines, noted suicide survivor to Sun Valley who spoke to school kids about suicide. Sun Valley is in the top 5% highest suicide rate per capita in the Northwest, prompting a community initiative with St. Luke’s and other stake holders, to begin healing. She lives in Sun Valley with her two children, serves on the Board of Community School. She has her Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and is an Executive Life Empowerment Coach, where she helps people meet their dreams and goals! The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it!

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Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.