children at play

The Benefits of Play

As chilly winter days transition into balmy spring time, children and adults both anticipate spending more time outdoors.  Unfortunately, the school environment doesn’t always cooperate with the onset of spring fever as students prepare for and take mandated tests or complete end of year projects.  Some classes forgo recess altogether in order to focus on academic excellence.  A nationwide study on how first through fifth grade children spend their time at school found that on a randomly selected day, 21% of children did not have any recess  at all.

What are the benefits of recess?  Here are a few:

  • Brain research show a relationship between physical activity and the development of brain connections.
  • Children who are active at school continue to be active at home.
  • Children develop social and behavioral skills as they learn to exercise leadership, negotiate, take turns and resolve conflicts.
  • Memory and attention are improved when learning is spaced out and recess provides a necessary break from academics.
  • Play for children is not just a social and physical outlet, it is a real learning activity.

How can adults encourage positive play? The best way is by setting the stage before hand.

  • Just as in the classroom, develop a specific set of rules for children to follow.  Encourage them to be a part of the process and then commit to following the rules.
  • Brainstorm games that encourage responsibility, cooperation, and communication. Make a list of the games to facilitate child choice.
  • Anticipate and discuss the most  common problems that are encountered on the playground:  not including everyone in a game, not encouraging others or putting someone down because of a lack of ability, not following the rules.
  • Develop a system for students to solve problems when they occur.  Practice with role-play how to handle disagreements.
  • Regularly review the process to see how it is working.

Related posts:

Children and Friendship Problems

Good or Bad Decision?

Teaching Kids How to Handle Emotion

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)

Stressed out primary girl child thinking hard to recollect the answer

6 steps to take charge of test anxiety

As the school year winds down, anxiety ramps up.  There is anxiety over completing projects. There is anxiety over passing to the next grade.  But most of all there is anxiety over testing.

The best way to eliminate test anxiety, is to put testing in it’s proper perspective.  In an education world where testing, test scores and data have taken on a life of it’s own, this is a difficult thing to do.  The purpose of tests is to provide information; information on what an individual student has learned and what they have not learned so that future teaching can begin from that point.

Instead tests are used to evaluate and assess teachers and even entire schools as to whether or not they are missing the mark.  Because so much is at stake, this increases everyone’s anxiety and this emotion gets passed on to students.

Parents as well can increase anxiety by putting too much emphasis on testing, rather than on the learning experience itself.  A student who values and is engaged in the learning process throughout the year will naturally be prepared for doing well on a test.  Excessive focus on tests as a gateway to the future, whether passing to the next grade or admission to the college of their dreams can create undue stress.

Given that despite our best efforts, children may become stressed out over upcoming testing, what are the best ways to deal with anxiety when it rears it’s ugly head?  Here are 5 tips to to help a child take charge of his feelings.

  1. First and foremost acknowledge the feeling rather than brushing it off or providing a distraction.  Instead of, “Don’t worry.  You are so smart, you’ll do fine.”  Try, “You are worried about passing the test?  Tell me about that.” Help the child identify how he knows he is worried both physically (heart beating faster, shallow breathing for instance) and mentally (I keep thinking about not passing, blanking out answers etc.)
  2. Create an positive image of who the child wants to be going into the situation.
    1. “I want to be calm and confident.”
    2. “I want to be focused and know the answers to the test.”
  3. Teach some simple breathing skills to calm down the physical symptoms, so he can begin working on the mental skills.  Point out how calming the breathing, calms the body.  An easy one is box breathing:
    1. Breathe in for 4 counts
    2. Hold for 4 counts
    3. Breathe out for 4 counts
    4. Hold for 4 counts
    5. Repeat
  4. Identify and challenge the thoughts that are creating the anxiety by providing a different thought pattern to replace the anxiety producing thoughts.  Creating a simple repeatable phrase that the child can learn and repeat when they feel the worry starting is helpful.  Instead of thinking “what if”  change the thought to “what is”.  For example instead of thinking “What if I get the test and don’t know any answers?”, change the thought to “I’ve worked hard all year and I choose to be calm and confident of my ability.”
  5. Create a plan that the child can follow on his own:  “Whenever I notice I am getting stressed out, I will:
    1. Remember my positive outcome: Who I want to be.  How I want to feel.
    2. Stop and breathe
    3. Repeat my phrase
  6. Check in to make sure the plan is working and tweak the plan  if it is not.  Create a positive expectation that the anxiety is something that the child can be in charge of rather than something to avoid.

Related posts:

5 Steps to Raising Up a Confident Kid

Stressed Out?  An Unconventional Cure

Teaching Kids How to Handle Emotion

Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games

Just for you!  Here are activities, lesson plans, discussion questions, coloring sheets, word search puzzles and games for each of the six Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books.  Over 75 pages of ideas so that you can create lessons on cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills to quickly extend and incorporate the Wyatt stories.








How do you change a child’s behavior?

As a retired school counselor, I often answer questions on various forums about children and behavior.  A question that comes up repeatedly for all ages and in various forms is how to motivate children and create change.

Educators wonder how to get children to apply themselves and care about learning the prescribed curriculum.

Counselors wonder how to get children to change negative behaviors into positive ones that serve the both the child and their peers.

Parents wonder how to do all of the above while managing to earn a living and maintain a household!

It’s a complex issue and often the answer is:  “It depends…”

Change and the Elephant Analogy

In their book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath take the  complex concept  of change and present it in simple terms that anyone can learn and apply to a particular situation.

Here are the basics:

The authors present the analogy of a rider who is trying to control an elephant (those of us who have worked with young children can certainly relate to this).  The elephant is the emotional side of us and the rider is the rational side.  While the rider has the reins and seems to be in charge, his control is always iffy because the elephant is so much larger than the rider and can easily overpower him. There is also a third element that needs to be considered and that is the environment that all of this activity takes place in.

The Three Sides of Behavior Change

Many times when adults try to ‘motivate’ children they approach the  problem from the rational side of the rider.  They try logic.  They try reasoning.  They try strategies.  They use candy and stickers for a job completed. They explain why good grades now will get you into college later.  These tactics may work… but they may not.

At this point many of us give up in frustration.

Instead, what if it’s possible to create change through considering the needs of the elephant?  This involves taking the time to learn about the feelings involved and to tap into those feelings.  How can you get children to be enthusiastic or excited about the desired change?  How can you generate compassion, loyalty or ambition?  These are not easy questions but it is possible.

It is equally important to consider the environment.  Can you manipulate the environment so that the desired behavior is more likely to happen?  Are the directions and the path to follow crystal clear so that children know the plan and the end result? Have you removed any obstacles to the desired behavior?

Change for children is driven by the same factors as change for adults.  Anytime you are attempting to change a behavior, think about it from the point of view of a rider on an elephant.  How can I appeal to the rational side?  How can I appeal to the emotional side?  How can I create an environment that supports change?

Related posts:

3 Ways to Help Children Cope with the Stress of Change

5 Tips for Thriving with your Strong-Willed Child

5 Easy Steps Kids can Learn to Problem Solve


Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt has never liked change, at least not at first.  Once he tries something new, he usually finds he really likes it.  Now that he is about to begin kindergarten, Wyatt is really worried.  Will he make friends?  Will he get lost in the new school?  Will he miss his mom?  Join Wyatt in his latest “wonder-full” adventure! Wyatt-kKindergarten_thumb
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Goes to Kindergarten

Why failing first leads to success.

He won’t do any work in class.

She never turns in homework.

She is capable, but doesn’t work up to her potential…

If you have been  an educator for any length of time, you’ve had a child like this in your classroom. You’ve tried every strategy that you can think of–nothing is working.

Maybe you are a parent with a child  like this right now and you are out of ideas…

What can you do?

One of the amazing things about children in particular but really all of us, is that the brain has an infinite capacity to change.  In the not too distant past, we used to think that once certain habits or behavior was established that people rarely changed.  We now know that the brain continues to develop well into the 20’s and that we can make major changes in everything from our outlook to the way that we function for our entire lives.  This is called brain  plasticity.

How do we make the most of this amazing human quality?  One of the ways is by encouraging children to develop a growth mindset that basically says, “Excellence is a process.  Failure is not the end of the road but instead it is how you learn.”

Here is a video that illustrates this well:

Knowing that how you handle mistakes, failure and losing is an important indicator of how successful you are, how can we best encourage students?

In their excellent book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath, describe a study with students who were doing poorly in math.  They  were divided into two groups.  One group spent time in a a generic study skills class.  The other group spent time in a growth mindset class where they were taught that the mind is like a muscle.  The more you work it, the smarter you become. They were reminded of how they had learned non-academic skills like skateboarding and how everything is hard before you master it.

The results?  The study skills group continued to have declining grades.  However, the growth mindset group significantly outperformed the  other group.  They reversed the downward trend, some of them dramatically.  Teachers who were unaware of the group students  were assigned to, were asked to identify the students who had made the most positive gain.  Seventy-five percent of the students they identified were in the growth mindset group.

What is truly amazing about this study is that the students improved in math, a cumulative subject and they  were not taught anything specific  to math skills!  Think about this for a moment;  just learning that you have the ability to learn and excel despite failure, caused students to improve in a specific skill.

How can you apply this information to students that you know?

How does this apply outside of the academic environment?

Related Posts:

3 Ways to Teach You Child to be a Leader

What if you embrace the difficulty?

Focusing on Joyful Parenting


Stuff Parents Want to Know:  Answers to Frequently Asked Questions 

In twenty years of school counseling I’ve been asked a lot of questions.  This ebook is a compilation of some of the most common ones along with some effective strategies and books you can read with your child to address the problem. stuffparents   Click on the link below to purchase:

Stuff Parents Want to Know: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


Teaching Kids How to Handle Emotion

Just as children need to learn their colors, letters and numbers, they need to learn how to identify and express their feelings.  Parents and educators often focus on the former and ignore the latter.

How often do you hear a parent quizzing a children  on colors or recognizing the letters in their name?

How often do you hear them ask a child to identify how they or someone else is feeling?

See what I mean?

It’s not that we don’t think it’s important… it’s one of the many sides of the emotional/behavioral equation that we expect children to ‘just get it’ without specifically teaching them the different nuances of feelings and what to do about them.  We wouldn’t expect a child to just naturally know the color blue or yellow without being taught, right?  So why would we expect that they would know how to recognize, name and cope with feelings without being taught?

If we teach children anything, we often teach them to ignore and stuff negative feelings while promoting positive feelings.  We distract or redirect.  I know we think we are doing them a favor when we do this, but without the negative feelings, we can’t truly enjoy and appreciate the positive ones.

Here’s what it takes:

Be Aware-the first step in helping children understand feelings is to increase awareness.  Point out their feelings and those of others.

  • “I see you are angry because you are talking really loud and pointing your finger at your sister. “
  • “I see a big smile on your face.  Going to the park really makes you happy doesn’t it?”

Teach Coping Skills–teach children that all feelings are okay, but all the choices we have to act out our feelings are not okay.  It is their job to make reasonable decisions about how to express their feelings.

  • “Being angry with your sister because she took your toy is okay.  Grabbing the toy back and hitting her is not.”
  • “Feeling excited about going to the park is okay.  Jumping on the couch because you are excited is not.”

Teach Positive Behavior–Be sure to teach children what is acceptable in addition to what is not acceptable.  Simply sending a child to timeout without being clear about alternative behaviors does not correct the problem in the future.  If necessary, you may have to suggest some possibilities initially.

  • “I know that you were mad when your sister took your toy away but grabbing the toy back is not okay.  Instead you need to tell her how you feel and ask for the toy back.”
  • “I know you are excited about going to the park but jumping on the couch tears up the couch.  What else could you do when you are excited?”

Understanding their own feelings, both positive and negative, and relating to the feelings of others is critical for personal well being and building relationships.  One great way to teach this without waiting until you are in the midst of an emotional breakdown, is to read books or watch movies and then ask:

How did the main character feel in the story?

How did they act out that feeling?

Was there a better way to express their feeling?

What was the consequence of expressing their feeling in that way?

Here’s a good book to start with:

Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt is always wondering about something and lately it is how to get his friend, Max to change his bossy ways.  What can he do?  Join Wyatt as he considers some rather unusual options until he finally discovers that a heart to heart talk with Max can create a new friendship with an old friend.  Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_Manners_Kindle
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Good Manners


Related Posts:

Helping Children Cope with the Stress of Change

It’s not all about ME! Teaching children empathy.

How to Raise a Resilient Child





child thinking2

Good or bad decision?

What do kids and adults do all day everyday?

It’s so automatic, many times we aren’t even aware that we are doing it.

Other times we think and agonize for days, to do it right.

It’s so common, you’ve probably done it about 100 times already today…

Give up?

We make decisions.  Constantly.

You just made the decision to read this blog… or not.

You made the decision today about what time to get up, what to eat and how to spend your time.

You decide who to have relationships with, what to say and how to behave.  It goes on and on…

You would think that something that we spend so much time doing, we would also spend a lot of time learning how to do well.  Research however shows that we all tend to default to the way we’ve always done it, even when our results don’t turn out well.  And we tend to teach and model the same faulty ways of decision making to our children.

According to the excellent book, Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, there are four villains of good decision making.  See how many of these have sabotaged your family’s decisions recently:

  1. Limited options–It’s not that we have limited options.  It’s that we frame our problem and decision making in a narrow frame and don’t look at all the options. Either we go to grandma’s for holidays or we don’t.  What if it’s possible to find another alternative?  What if it’s possible to alternate holidays with the family visiting Grandma and her visiting us?  What if both Grandma and the family traveled somewhere together?
  2. Confirmation Bias— We only look for information that supports our preconceived notions of the best decision.  We ask other parents in the neighborhood who is the best 3rd grade teacher and then when Johnny gets someone else, we’ve already decided it’s going to be a bad year.  What if instead we surveyed a larger sample?  What if we assessed the actual learning experience?
  3. Short term emotion–We allow ourselves to be swayed by emotion in the moment which will quickly fade.  We purchase a ridiculously expensive item of clothing because our child convinces us their life will be ruined otherwise.  We send our child to a high priced college because they think their future career plans will fail if they attend the local state college.
  4. Overconfidence in our own predictions–We think that we are better predictors of the future and future trends than we actually are.  We encourage our children to pick a particular career because we think it offers security and a solid future…then the career disappears off the career map.  We think our child is such a natural at playing tiddlywinks that surely they will get the tiddlywinks scholarship…

Don’t worry we’ve all made all four of the mistakes in decision making more times than we can count.  Luckily a solution is suggested by the authors. Before making any major decision follow the WRAP process:

W: Widen your options

R:  Reality test your assumptions

A:  Attain distance before deciding

P:  Prepare to be wrong

By following this simple model, you can guarantee that your decision making will improve and everyone will benefit.

Related Posts

Help Children Cope with the Stress of Change

Help Kids Learn to Problem Solve

4 Surprising Ways to Raise Happy Kids

Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

It’s time to catch the school bus and Wyatt can’t find anything.  Where is his backpack?  his lunch money? Wyatt is about to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of being organized and the benefits of planning ahead.  This adorable story offers simple helpful ideas that kids and parents can use to make life less stressful and more fun.Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Front_Covr-Organized[1]
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Being Organized

Visit Teachers Pay Teachers to access a lesson plan and much more for the Wyatt book:

Wyatt Lesson Plan and Activities