How to raise responsible, self-reliant children

I often hear teachers lament that the students today have little intrinsic motivation and initiative.  Certainly as a guidance counselor, I  often presented lessons on being responsible.  When asked what it means to be responsible, children usually have a good idea.  When asked what responsibilities they have, I would get a variety of answers; everything from I don’t have any chores, to I have to clean my room and do my homework.

Developing a Responsible Attitude=Adult Success 

While children often lament the responsibilities they have, it is a rare adult who doesn’t attribute their success to being held to a standard as a child.  Darren Hardy in his book, The Compound Effect writes of his strict, single parent upbringing by his dad, a high school football coach, who held Darren responsible and accountable for chores, school work and personal choices.  Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love, often refers to his strict Mennonite farm upbringing where he rose early to milk the cows before attending school. Both believe that their motivation and  success is due at least in part to the habits and attitudes they developed as children.


Eight tips for encouraging responsible self-reliant children:

Being responsible is part of the teamwork involved in family life.  Parents who can convey responsibilities as jobs that everyone does to create the whole fabric of a working, loving family model will gain the best cooperation.  Here are some tips for developing responsible children:

  • Be clear on expectations and results expected.  Clean your room may mean put everything in it’s place to a parent and shove everything in the closet to a child.  Allow for age and ability differences.
  • Determine a time frame.  Is this a daily chore or a once a week chore?  Does it need to be completed by a certain time?
  • Don’t present the chore as a choice when it really isn’t one.  Many times parents will say, “Will you pick up your toys for me?”  which implies that one answer could be, “No thanks, I’d rather play.”  A better communication is a statement, “It’s time to pick up your toys before dinner.”
  • Provide plenty of praise and encouragement but don’t get stuck in a reward mode for every behavior.  A reward such as paying for a chore should be given for extra jobs taken on not for the routine ones.
  • Be consistent and create routine habits. Chores done on a haphazard schedule give the impression that you don’t care and ultimately the system will fall apart.
  • Allow for mistakes.  Encourage your child to be a problem solver when things don’t go as planned and figure out how to fix the problem.  This is better than taking over and doing the task for them.
  • Set a responsible role model yourself.  It doesn’t hurt to point out that as the parent, you have your responsibilities as well and that you will be completing them while he does his part.
  • Create a sense of play and fun.  Not all chores have to be boring drudgery.  Have a race to see who can clean the fastest.  Put on some music and dance while loading the dishwasher.  There are plenty of ways to make chores a great time of interaction and engagement as a family.

How many positive comments does it take?

Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage writes about how many positive comments it takes to over ride one negative comment.  Turns out a lot.  Based on research by psychologist and business consultant, Marcial Losada,  2.9013 is the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to ensure success. Known as the ‘Losada Line’, the studies show that if you rise above this line (and ideally a ratio of six to one is best), then teams produce their very best work.

What if we applied this knowledge to families and schools?  In short, what if we went beyond saying  “Good job!”  every once in a while and really told the people we care about…well, just how much we care?  Someone did some research on that too and it’s pretty powerful.

Focusing on positive interactions and making sure that we provide a positive environment with more encouragement than negativity can just by itself transform a relationship and ensure success.  How often do we as adults feel that our job as parents and teachers is to instruct and correct children, but that positive feedback is nice but not really necessary?  How often have you heard someone say, “Why do I have to compliment them on good behavior when that is just what they are expected to do anyway?”  Turns out we all flourish and perform best in a positive caring environment.  Oh, and it increases our own level of happiness too.

Who can you share a positive comment with today?

Four Stress-free Family Vacation Tips


Maybe the recent flurry of winter weather has you  longing for a vacation where you and your family can get away from it all and create those fabulous family memories. Spring break is on the horizon and visions of a sun-drenched family excursion may be dominating your dreams.

Family fun or family frustration?

If you are really honest though, your last vacation wasn’t exactly the stress-free family bonding time that you envisioned.  Maybe the last time you took off on a get-away as a family, you returned more exhausted and on edge than ever. I’ve been there:  left the daily routine eager for a fun filled but relaxing time away and found myself  frustrated and aggravated beyond belief as we drove aimlessly around a strange city arguing about where to eat dinner. There was one memorable trip to California  where we strolled through the spectacular and awe-inspiring redwood forest of Muir Woods, while my young children whined and continuously asked, “When do we get to go to the gift shop?”

Is there a way to create a stress free family vacation where you leave behind that baggage of aggravation and worry?  Follow these tips, and you’ll be on the road to a family vacation that’s smoother than those bumpy rides of past trips.

Set a budget

Before you make any decisions about your family get-away, determine your travel budget for the trip. Nothing kills the fun of a trip than arguing about the cost or even worse putting it all on a credit card that you dread opening when you return. Plan the larger costs first such as the flight, the hotel and car rental.  Then set a daily budget for meals and entertainment. Be sure to check out the costs for the local restaurants and other activities you know will be on your agenda as you determine a reasonable daily budget.  Don’t forget to include an extra emergency fund for unexpected expenses.

Plan together

Our best trips involved the whole family in planning.  While polling for ideas and activities doesn’t mean a trip that meanders from gift shop to gift shop per my daughter’s request, it does mean that you can include activities that appeal to everyone. It also means that you will plan a vacation that is more age appropriate and avoid unrealistic expectations for behavior and interest levels. Moms and dads are still in charge of the final decisions and it is a lost cause to try to please everyone at all times. You might find though that your kids are more interested in a lower cost, easy to plan trip like exploring a nearby state park than they are a trip across country.

Continue a routine

I know that vacation typically means late nights and sleeping in.  However, especially with young children, consider keeping a similar schedule and routine to what you have at home.  Children thrive on predictable routines so be spontaneous with activities but keep a consistent bedtime, meal time and mid-day rest to prevent meltdowns due to exhausted kids and parents alike.  Resist the urge to do everything possible in a few short days and instead schedule some down time just to relax and play.  Plan to arrive back at home a day early so that you can get back into the regular schedule before returning to work and school.

Identify behavior expectations

Be clear about positive behavioral expectations and share them just as you share your trip itinerary with your children.  Plan ahead and set boundaries for what children will be allowed to do and not to do.  This way you aren’t constantly saying no throughout the trip and having to make snap decisions on what is possible.  Planning ahead for behavior is just as necessary as planning ahead for the trip details.   

Most important of all, enjoy the time together, be present in the moment and don’t sweat the small stuff. Rather, have fun and play with your crew as you experience new memories together!


Want to know how to communicate best with your child’s unique personality style?  Check out the Parenting with Heart ebook available in the Wyatt store!

Children and Friendship Problems


As a school counselor for twenty years, one of the most common problems that I talked to kids about was friendship.  What do you do when a friend wants to do something that is unkind, thoughtless, or involves breaking the rules?  What do you do when a friend is bossy, self-centered and treats you unkindly?  This is a tough concept for us all. Relationships are messy for both children and adults.

Children and Self-Worth

One of the key concepts that all children need to learn and internalize is a feeling of worth and value that is inherent in their authentic self rather than based on another’s opinion. We all try to avoid this difficult work.  It’s not just children that spend time trying to look and act like a  well-publicized role model. Just look at the trends on social media or television.

Being a Best Friend

I love books that combine a good story with a good lesson. It’s even better if the lesson can be summed up in one memorable sentence. The book Hunter’s Best Friend at School does all of the above and more. Written by Laura Malone Elliott, it is the tale of two raccoons who are best friends and want to do everything together and just alike. This doesn’t normally create problems, but when Stripe shows up at school in a mischief-making mood, Hunter is faced with the choice of whether or not to follow along. He soon discovers that making the wrong choice not only means they are both in trouble, but also that he is not even happy with himself. When his mother discovers his dilemma, she teaches him a great life lesson when she says, “Sometimes being a best friend means you have to help your friend be his best self.” Couldn’t we all benefit from her wisdom?

Three Tips to Help Children

How can we as parents and educators help children recognized that they are “enough” just as they are?  How can we teach them to interact in a positive way with friends, even when friends are challenging?  Here are some tips:

  • Recognize the role that you play as a role model.  Children imitate what they see around them and if you are not comfortable with yourself and your own value, if you are constantly trying to measure up to someone else’s standard, children will follow the same path.
  • Recognize and encourage children in their areas of strength.  Too often we focus on areas that need improvement and of course this is necessary, but make sure the balance of your interaction is supportive and empowering.
  • Teach children through example and practice how to interact with peers in ways that encourage others to be their “best selves”.  You can use books, movies or real life examples as role playing opportunities.


February 24-26th is a countdown special on Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Good Manners .  In this book, Wyatt learns what to say to a bossy friend and how to turn a challenging situation into an empowering one for both characters.  You can find the book here:

Helping Children Handle Disappointment


We all face disappointment, children and adults alike.  Whether it’s missing the winning shot or rain that ruins a picnic at the park, life is full of big and little disappointments.  As parents and teachers we would like to spare kids from these letdowns.  However, we can do children a greater service if instead, we teach them tools and skills for how to deal with those times when things didn’t go as planned.

You Get What You Get if You Don’t Throw a Fit

“Melvin did not deal well with disappointment.”  This is the beginning of Julie Gassman’s  book, You Get What You Get.  It tackles the problem of handling disappointment in a clever and straightforward way.  Melvin throws a fit whenever he doesn’t get what he wants.  Apparently this is works well at home since he always gets his way, but at school the rule is “You get what you get if you don’t throw a fit.”  Melvin quickly learns to control his behavior at school and when he spills the beans at home, his parents take on a new philosophy as well.  The book makes a great lesson and relevant point about self control that any child can understand. With bright illustrations and a to-the-point message, Gassman has created a winning book with a great message.

Young shouting child in glasses and striped knitted jacket. Studio shot.

Developing Skills to Handle Disappointment

While the book teaches self control, it doesn’t teach children other tools for handling disappointment.  It is after all a picture book and can’t cover everything.   Here are some suggestions for expanding the story:

      • Teach children that while feeling disappointed or angry is okay, certain behaviors such as throwing a fit are not.  
        • Ask the reader, “What could Melvin have done instead of throwing a fit?”
      • Teach children to communicate and talk through their feelings in a respectful way.  
        • Ask the reader, “How could Melvin have expressed how disappointed he was in a respectful way?”
      • Teach children to recognize the difference between things they can change and things that need to be accepted. Not always getting to go first may need to be accepted. Not being accepted into the elite choir ensemble at school may also need to be accepted but if this is a true goal then perhaps voice lessons and further practice should be considered for next year.  Help children develop critical thinking skills to evaluate different situations and the best response to each.
        • Ask the reader, “When Melvin didn’t get what he wanted, what could he have done next?”
      • Teach children that there is often a lesson learned or even an opportunity in disappointment.  As a teacher or parent you can share a time that you didn’t get what you wanted but in the end you got an opportunity that you would not have expected because of the disappointment.
        • Ask the reader to imagine “What will happen to Melvin in the future?  How would you like to add to the story?”

Disappointment is something we’ve all experienced and our children will as well. Developing tools for handling it is an important life lesson.

What about you? Can you think of a disappointment that turned out to be a lesson learned or an unexpected opportunity?  How do you react to letdowns? Visit the Wyatt facebook page and share your story about disappointment.

Mark your calendars for a countdown special on Wyatt’s book:  Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Good Manners!  Beginning February 24th for ONE Day only you can download the Kindle edition for .99!  


Five Ways to Get Students’ Attention


Sometimes as teachers we forget that we are speakers as well as information sharers. We get so focused on progressing through the curriculum, that we forget the need to first engage the the class.  Every great speaker knows that they need to do something to hook their audience at the beginning of their presentation.  Not many speakers start with “Take out your textbook and turn to page 24.”  If they did… well their audience would probably either head for the exit or start playing Candy Crush on their iphone.  Instead great speakers begin with the unexpected and they engage their audience from the first few words.  Teachers could learn a lot from this approach.

Five ways to get student attention at the beginning of a lesson:

1.  Regroup the class–form groups or partners.  Move to the floor for a story or line up for an activity.  Stand up or sit on the floor.  Not only will you get their interest but it will be healthier.  Studies have shown that students and adults spend way too much time sitting. Get the class moving and wondering what is going to happen next.

2.  Do the unexpected.  Tell them NOT to take out their books, or a pencil and paper.  Put away books and begin with a clean desk.  Create a surprising environment in the classroom, by using decorations to create a theme.  Wear a hat, a vest or a costume that makes them think about the lesson.  Use props.


3.  Ask an open-ended question.  Here is one of my favorite interchanges with a kindergarten class:

Me:  Today we are going to talk about farms.  What is a farm?

Student:  A farm is where farmers live.

Me:  Some farmers raise chickens.  What do we get from chickens?

Student:  Bacon and eggs!!

Me:  Some farmers raise buffalo.  What do we get from buffalo?

Student:  Buffalo wings!

(Sometimes these things don’t go quite as you expected…)

4.  Use visuals.  I used lots of videos in my classroom guidance lessons.  Youtube videos, news clips and clips from popular movies are all great resources. Picture books are great for all ages.  Find a captivating image and show it.  Ask for feedback:  what is happening? what will happen next?  how would you change it?

5.  Play a game, act out a role play.  This can take a few minutes and lead into the lesson. Games can demonstrate cooperation, team building and goal setting.  Play twenty-one questions to guess a historical figure or two truths and a lie to identify facts about their life.  Give a few students a script or have them ad lib a situation.

What ever you do, begin each lesson with something that will hook your audience, spark their interest and create positive endorphins.  Not only will you engage their attention, but you will also make the lesson more memorable.

What other ideas do you have to engage student attention?  Let me know in the comment section.