Who do you want to be? Helping children find their voice.

Helping children find their voice and determine who they are at their core has been a task for all generations.  Over the years we have certainly approached it in many different ways. There have been generations that  focused less on who you wanted to be as an adult and more on survival issues such as finding a job and feeling secure.  However, today’s students often have the luxury of envisioning a future where they can discover a career that not only pays the bills but also combines passion and purpose as well.

Nevertheless there are many pitfalls and detours that students can take that will leave them derailed from developing a lifestyle that matches their inner voice.  What are common mistakes?  Here are a few:

  1. They can become too absorbed in tracking other’s opinions rather determining their own.  Peer pressure and friend’s views have always been important but social media has enhanced this to an alarming level.  Every word and picture is up for everyone to like or love and it can become a personal mission to win approval. Finding your voice means turning inward and listening to your personal strengths and abilities, desires and passions not turning outward and tracking what others say.
  2. They can develop an expectation that everything must happen at the speed of light or at least at the speed of the internet connection.  Because we live in a microwave fast world, students can believe that they should be able to determine their life course lickety-split and they tend to give up on situations that don’t measure up quickly.  The days of expecting to pay your dues are gone and while there are some benefits to that, success is still dependent on persistence and determination.  Every opportunity is a chance to learn more about ourselves and what matters but sometimes it takes time to determine the benefits.
  3. They can become dependent on standard methods for finding their voice rather than developing their own path and journey.  While going directly from high school to college is certainly one pathway to exploring career options, there are many more that are not widely recognized.  Certainly not every student needs to or even wants to go to college.  However there is often a lack of support and encouragement to discover alternative paths such as:
    1. taking a year to explore a variety of interests in order to be better focused in academic endeavors
    2. attending a community or trade school
    3. finding an apprenticeship situation
    4. creating their own business through entrepreneurial efforts

How Can We Help?

As educators and parents we can best help children find their voice when we provide opportunities for discovery rather give pat answers.  The world is changing rapidly and students need to learn how to cope and adapt to any situation, not just how to navigate the world as it is today.  That being said many of the best practices are actually old practices useful in our new world.  We can help students:

1. Discover how to use their talents to help others and make the world a better place.

Rather than feeding off the approval of others, students can feel better about themselves when they serve others.  Approval becomes irrelevant when we focus on helping others rather than comparing ourselves to others.

2. Find a cause they can believe in that is bigger than themselves.

We all want to belong somewhere and students benefit when they can find a positive place to fit in.  Belonging to a group or a cause can provide support and encouragement during tough or uncertain times.

3. Develop and reach for personal goals.

Children flourish when they are able to achieve what matters to them.  This is a much better self-esteem builder than hollow affirmations. It also teaches children that accomplishing goals is a process with many steps and an action plan, not something that magically happens because you wish for it.

Yes, its a new and ever-changing world and the best preparation that we can give children is to embrace it with enthusiasm while exploring ways to use their gifts and talents for the betterment of others.

Related Posts:

Good or Bad Decision?

Helping Kids Develop Self Discipline

Creating a growth mindset in kids

Wyatt Learns about Giving

It’s almost Christmas and Wyatt the Wonder Dog is wondering how long he will have to wait until the big day and what gifts he will get.  His mother however, has a more important question, “What will you give for Christmas?”  Join Wyatt as he learns a valuable lesson about how anyone can be generous and giving at Christmas and all through the year.  Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_for_Kindle
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Giving


Core Values

How do you do things in your family?


Have you ever thought about what your personal core values are?

What about core values for your classroom? or for your family?

Would it make a difference if you knew your core values and practiced them?

In a previous post, I wrote about the  one question you can ask to encourage leadership skills in others.  An equally important question to ask that can frame the future and develop leadership skills  in children is, “What are our core values?” Another way to ask the same question that children might better understand is, “How do we do things around here and why”?

How do we do things around here?

In her book Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth includes a chapter on culture and how the culture of an organization can shape who the individuals in an organization become.  She uses the example of the  University of North Carolina’s women’s soccer team.  An example of some of their core values are:

  1. We don’t whine (we don’t complain about anything on or off the field)
  2. We are selfless (we play for each other)
  3. We are disciplined (we do something related to our goal everyday)
  4. We are focused (we want our years of college to be rich, valuable and deep)

Another example of a successful organization that has spent a bit of time clarifying their core values is North Point Church.  Here is an example of their core values:

1) Make It Better – Everyone on staff participates in making things better.

2) Take It Personally – Believe in what we do, be involved.

3) Working With Collaboration – Don’t be too proud to ask for help or too busy to be able to help.

4) Replace Ourselves – You’ll always have a place if you are helping others move up.

5) Stay Fit – Our personal lives come to work with us. The more responsibility you have in an organization, the more important it is for you to stay fit – spiritually, physically, mentally, financially, and relationally.

6. Remain Open Handed – In a growing organization, there will be constant change. Effective staff and leaders have to be open to change.

As you can see core values don’t have to be a list of dry meaningless virtues.  They can be phrases and examples of the kind of leader ship skills that we want to practice and who we want to become.

Now it’s your turn… How can you identify core values for your family, your classroom or your team? Use these examples as inspiration but meet with the members of your group and brainstorm ideas.  Ask how you would know if those values were being practiced.  When you are finished, anyone in your group should be able to easily answer the question, “How do we do things around here?” by relating the core values.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship

It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog.  How do you make friends?  Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you?  Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog-Friendship Cover (1)

Wyatt Learns about Friendship



Are you a leader? One question to ask.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of leadership training at schools and conferences.  What qualities do you think of  when you think of great leaders?






While these are all qualities that we may aspire to, John Quincy Adams penned a powerful leadership quote that can encompass all these qualities and more.  Here it is:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more and do more, then you are a leader.

So what if we turned this quote into a question that we could ask ourselves at the end of every day?  It might go something like this:

Who did I inspire today to dream more, learn more and do more?

For educators and parents this is a worthwhile goal and a powerful question.

How can you be a leader in a child’s life?

Being a leader isn’t just about leading others… its also about being a leader in your own life.  Here are four ways you can inspire others to dream more, learn more and do more by taking charge of your own life.

  • Know your why: It’s easy to get lost in the details and demands of our busy lifestyles but great leaders know their why and love sharing that joy and enthusiasm with others. Renew and review that basic why  you do what you do on a regular basis.
  • Create a time of quiet focus each morning:  It’s hard to inspire others to set goals and dream big if you don’t take the time to create an intentional life yourself. During your quiet time you can:
    • Review your goals for the day.
    • Read something inspirational.
    • Get centered. Breathe.
    • Meditate. Pray.
  • Take time to listen: Leading others isn’t just about sharing your message, your why, your beliefs and goals with others.  It’s about helping others discover their own path and their own way.  Take the time to explore and listen to the dreams and goals of others.  Then see how you can encourage them along the path.
  •  Keep learning and dreaming too:  Look for and create learning opportunities that excite you. Read inspiring books.  Attend creative classes and events.  Not only will you be a good model for children but your enthusiasm will be contagious.

 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


Wyatt and I are grateful for all our readers, so here is a Christmas Special just for you:)


Three ways to tackle anxiety among children

There is no question that anxiety among children (and adults for that matter) is on the rise. When I first began school counseling over 20+ years ago it was rare to have a child referred for anxiety.  By the time I left the field three years ago, I was running a regular group for students with anxiety. One startling report indicates that the average high school student today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s!

Professionals speculate on the reasons for this turn of events.  Here are a few of the reasons…

Why children are more anxious than ever

  • Despite technology, we are more socially disconnected than ever– families split up, move apart and participate less in social or religious organizations. In many cases, “connecting on our devices” has replaced in person meetings and socializing. Because kids don’t have a close knit home base, they often feel a lack of support from a network of significant others.
  • Our expectations are higher than ever-Consequently there is more pressure to perform and more dissatisfaction  if those expectations are not met.  Kids expect to have the latest technology, attend the best school,  make the best grades, make the team on the first try, score the most points and wear the latest fashion.
  •  We are more informed than ever and constantly inundated with bad news-from the latest natural disaster to the local crime scene to  the demise of public figures, kids are flooded with negativity 24 hours a day via news channels and the internet. All of this leads kids to anticipate danger and feel on edge all the time.

What can we do to decrease anxiety among children?

  • Set reasonable expectations and help children recognize the process of achievement.  Children need to recognize that achieving goals involves effort, struggle and often failure before there is success.  Teach resources for coping with the disappointments that can arise while celebrating the wins.
  • Create an oasis of support in your family and through significant groups that you may belong to.  Provide a safe environment where children can voice concerns. Acknowledge all feelings, positive and negative rather than brushing them off or providing a distraction. Instead teach coping techniques such as mindfulness or relaxation.
  • Share news events especially bad news with restraint and in consideration of the child’s age and ability to understand the circumstances.  Monitor their reactions and provide ways to contribute to a positive result such as collecting food or clothing or volunteering.  Teach children that they can make a difference in the world through their efforts.

Related posts:

Take charge of test anxiety

4 Surprising Ways to Raise Happy Kids

Stressed Out?

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship

It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog.  How do you make friends?  Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you?  Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog-Friendship Cover (1)

Wyatt Learns about Friendship

Sad child who is crying

Before there is grit there is pain

I’ve written several posts lately on developing grit in children.  Many of them focus on helping children deal with obstacles and  failure.  While driving to a presentation at the North Carolina School Counselor Conference this week, I listened to Brene Brown’s most recent book, Rising Strong.  As usual, she has done her research and has many insightful recommendations for living a whole-hearted life of courage, compassion and connection.  However, she made a statement in the book that stopped me short and got me thinking about the current focus on equipping children with grit.  She said that grit has become the golden standard of motivational speeches and blog posts… We are promoting the trophy,  the first place ribbon, the final mountain top success but not taking on the hard task of sharing the struggle, while we are still in the struggle.   Uh-oh…

Brene has long been a proponent of  vulnerability;  that tough experience that we all try to avoid.  Vulnerability is sharing the pain, while it is still hurting.  It’s sharing the embarrassment, when we still want to hide and hope no one noticed.  Vulnerability is about being real and authentic, not just announcing that we struggled once in the past and it made us the successful person we now are.   It is all well and good to announce that we have conquered the beast after the fact but who is talking about the struggle and panic while we are still in the battle?

All of this made me think about grit and children.  Are we expecting grit to magically appear after a few well planned lessons?  Are we hurrying children through the feelings they experience by trying to solve the problem and make everything better?  Or are we encouraging  children to talk and share while they are in the midst of the pain of challenging experiences?  Are we being available and supportive or are we being master fixer uppers?  I hope it is the former and not the latter.

Here’s how we can support children when they are challenged:

Four Steps to Support Children Through Challenging Times 

  1. Acknowledge the pain– The first step is recognizing the pain for what it is rather than distracting, redirecting or pretending it doesn’t exist.  This sometimes means that we have to stand out in the storm with the child rather than looking for shelter.  It’s not easy and probably not our first inclination.  As parents and educators we’d rather protect and resolve which leads us to the next step…
  2. Listen without trying to fix everything– Take some time to listen and explore the circumstances and the feelings. What happened first? What happened next?  Lean into the child’s perspective and understanding.  How are they making sense of things?  How does their perspective make them feel?
  3. Encourage children to be problem solvers not victims-Now is the time to turn on our natural helper skills and encourage children to see what is possible. What changes can they make in themselves and their environment?  What impact does their perspective have on how they feel and what they do?  What is the next step going forward?
  4. Model what we expect– As always it is important to remember that children learn more from what we do than what we say.  Are we vulnerable?  Do we express our own struggles and frustrations as well as how we resolve our challenges?  Do we do that in a way that teaches and supports rather than as an opportunity to complain and whine?

Practicing vulnerability and developing a grit is not a one and done experience.  Rather it is a daily challenge and practice for adults and children alike.

Related Posts:

The secret to helping children develop grit

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Creating a growth mindset in kids

Wyatt and I are grateful for all our readers, so here is a Thanksgiving Special just for you:)

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Mother and Daughter

One phrase that can change an entitlement mindset

Ever wonder how we could wind up with a whole generation of kids who feel entitled?

Entitled to good grades without having to work and study for them.

Entitled to a spot on the team or in the organization without having to practice and prove themselves.

Entitled to success without having to work for it?

In my last post on grit, I wrote about Angela Duckworth and how she found that students with grit weren’t necessarily the students with the best home environments, the most talent or the highest IQ.  Students who were successful were instead students who combined passion with perseverance.  They applied themselves to the task at hand and they didn’t give up when things got rough or challenging.  Intuitively we all know this.  But sometimes as parents or even educators we want to protect children from the challenges ahead and the disappointment of failure. Ironically this desire can have the opposite effect.

In his book, The Entitlement Cure, Dr. John Townsend addresses the problems that businesses are confronted with due to  the rampant entitlement attitude.  He recommends one phrase that parents can replace in a child’s vocabulary that is guaranteed to change an entitlement mindset.  It’s pretty simple and here it is:  Change “I deserve” to  “I am responsible”.  Here are some examples:

I deserve an A on my test… change to:  I am responsible for  studying and  earning the grade that I get on my test.

I deserve a special position on the team or in the organization I am in… change to:  I am responsible for practicing and earning my place.

I deserve to have the latest video game or name-brand clothes or whatever… change to: I am responsible for taking care of the things I own and earning the right to new things.

I deserve special treatment in any situation… change to:  I am responsible for working diligently and giving it my best, even when things are hard.

Of course, there are healthy “deserves”.  We all deserve basic human rights and care.  The problem comes when we come to believe that we deserve things that we must first earn through applying ourselves with passion and perseverance;  when we forgo grit for comfort and ease.

Neuroscience shows that changing the phrases and the words that we use can change attitudes and changing attitudes can change behavior.  “I deserve” is a dis-empowering phrase;  it encourages passivity and a victim mentality.  “I am responsible” is an empowering phrase;  it encourages action and a leadership mentality.  Let’s teach our kids to be responsible, even when it is hard, so they can look forward to success in their future.

Related posts:

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New on TPT:

Six Week Whole hearted group curriculum

3 kids and self discipline

This six week curriculum for grades 3-5 is based on Brene Brown’s book the Gift of Imperfection. Each week includes an intention, a quote, a story to read and discuss and a creative exercise to complete in the weekly journal which is included. Topics include: cultivating compassion and connection, cultivating your authentic voice, cultivating self-compassion, cultivating grit, cultivating gratitude and joy and cultivating intuition and trust. Six lesson plans are also included to apply the lessons in a classroom setting as well.

Wyatt Learns about Giving

It’s almost Christmas and Wyatt the Wonder Dog is wondering how long he will have to wait until the big day and what gifts he will get.  His mother however, has a more important question, “What will you give for Christmas?”  Join Wyatt as he learns a valuable lesson about how anyone can be generous and giving at Christmas and all through the year.  Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_for_Kindle
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Giving