Three surprising things NOT to say to kids

father talking to son


There are a lot of common phrases that we as parents and educators rattle off to kids without thinking much about the meaning that could be interpreted behind it.  Some of them are things that we’ve even been told we should say.  Here are three things I bet you’ve said before (I have) and why we need to rethink even our positive communication.

  1. Good Job!-– I know you thought you were doing a “good job” when you said this right?  There are several problems here. One is that it is used so frequently today that it has become meaningless.  But perhaps the biggest problem, is that it gives the child very little information about what exactly they did that was worth the compliment.  Did they share a toy with brother?  Do their chore without a reminder? Ace the spelling test?  Finally, it implies a reward only when a job mets a certain standard.  Sometimes it is better to say, “You really tried hard on that and I’m proud of you,” so that a child recognizes that it isn’t just the end result, but the effort that matters.
  2. Good boy!  Good girl!  I hear this one all the time.  While it is usually said in an effort to  boost self esteem it actually teaches a child that he or she is “good” because of performing a task or meeting an expectation, rather than that the child is inherently good but sometimes their behavior reflects poor choices.  Much better again to point out the specific behavior and comment on why you feel it was a good choice. “I really like it when you share with your brother.  It makes him happy too.”
  3. What a beautiful drawing!  You are so talented!  While you may (or may not) think it is a beautiful picture, the problem here is that the comment does not allow the child to make their own judgement about their picture and ultimately it makes them depend on others to judge their work or effort.  I bet you know children who constantly need feedback and reassurance about everything they do, right?  Instead, we want our children to grow up and have a sense of worth from within not from without. Start a dialogue with your child about the picture.  “Wow, I see lots of colors here.  Tell me about your drawing.”  Then see where they go with it.  You might be surprised.

Do you know a child who will be starting kindergarten in the fall?  Here’s a great book to help them prepare for the big step:

Wyatt the Wonder Dog 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!

Is being fair a bad idea?


When was the last time you heard, “It’s not fair!”

Do you struggle to be fair to the students in your classroom?

Do you worry that you don’t give equal attention or time to your kids?

Being Fair Means Everyone Misses Out

I was recently listening to an Andy Stanley podcast on leadership in which he proposed that the idea that being fair is a bad idea.  Are you surprised?

According to him,  the scenario goes something like this;  a parent, a teacher, a boss says, “I can’t give you _____  (fill in the blank with time, attention, affection, money, resources) because I can’t give the same thing to everyone and if I gave it just to you it would be unfair. Since I don’t have enough resources to be fair and give it to everyone, I won’t give it to you or anyone.”

The end result is that not only does no one get the benefit, but that the giver becomes disengaged, uninvolved, distant.  What could be a win-win situation becomes a losing situation for everyone, including the person who wants to give, the person in charge of the resources.

Do for One

How do you reconcile this situation?  Andy Stanley proposes what he calls “Do for one, what you wish you could do for all.”  But wait, do for one and leave someone out?  Isn’t that unfair?  Aren’t you as a parent, a teacher, a boss, playing favorites?  The answer of course is… yes.

But isn’t life unfair?

I’m not suggesting of course that a teacher, a parent, a boss give all their attention, all their resources or affection to one child and nothing to another.  Just as Andy is not suggesting a leader ignore the needs of all employees and dote on one.  Instead he is suggesting that you select those situations where you can tutor, counsel, encourage, and make a difference.  In other words, “do for one what you wish you could do for all.”

It Makes a Difference

Throughout history, there have been examples of this.

Oprah Winfrey was mentored and encouraged by a fourth grade teacher, Mary Duncan, who took extra time with her, allowed her to stay after class to help with various tasks and encouraged her to overcome her feelings of insecurity.

Walter Cronkite, well known news anchor, was encouraged by his devoted high school journalism teacher, Fred Birney, who gave him practical experience as editor of the high school newspaper and encouraged him to go into journalism rather than engineering.

Finally, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was inspired by Dr. Benjamin Mays, a minister, a scholar and president of Morehouse College.  Dr. King was so influenced by his close relationship with Dr. Mays that he would call him his “spiritual and emotional father”.

What if each of these individuals had decided not to mentor, not to encourage, not to inspire because they didn’t have the time to do that for all their students?  What if they had been afraid to become involved in the relationship because it wouldn’t be fair to others? Would we have even heard of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr or Walter Cronkite?

Applying the Principle

Overwhelmed by the needs of the students in your classroom?  Pick one where you can make a difference and mentor them.  Overcome by the turmoil, the needs of our broken world?  Pick one cause, one area where you can make a dent in the universe.  Think what a difference you could make if you applied this principle.  Think what a difference we all could make if we each one applied this principle to just one person.

What if instead of worrying about being fair, we instead worried about making a difference?  Would the world look like a different place?   I’d love to hear your comments!

Need a good read for the summer?  

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: 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.

Have you ever had a friend that did some things that you disagreed with?  Wyatt does and he doesn’t know what to do about it. Join Wyatt as he learns that being honest with his friend is the best and only way to solve the problem.  A great story!

~Lynn Hughes M.Ed. professional school counselor, Ball Ground Elementary, Georgia

Seven secrets to teach your child cooperation

boys playingMost parents and teachers would agree that cooperation is a critical skill for life success that requires communication, empathy and respect.  Even young children can begin to learn simple ways to cooperate.  Learning to use teamwork at home and in the classroom is a key skill that will eventually serve children well as adults.  How can we best encourage cooperation?  Here are  seven secrets:

1.  Lead by example– This is the key strategy and probably the hardest one.  As the adult it is necessary to not only model cooperation but to teach cooperation.  This means taking advantage of teachable moments by pointing out the options and clearly indicating which ones will best serve everyone involved.  It also means demonstrating how you as an adult cooperate.  “Dad and I are going to work together to clean out the garage today.  You can help by putting your toys on the shelf.”

2.  Use language that children understand-Make sure that when you ask a child to do something they understand what you want and expect.  “Help us get ready for grandmother’s visit by cleaning your room” may mean different things to different children.  “Help us get ready for grandmother’s visit by putting all your toys in the toy box” will get better results.

3.  Play a game-Children often respond to requests when it is a game or a race.  “How quickly can you get dressed for school?  I’m going to time you!”  may be all it takes. Sometimes as adults we get so focused on getting a task done that we forget that we can improve the possibility of cooperation with very simple tactics that take very little effort.


4.  Allow choices– Children just like adults want to feel they have some control over their actions and giving choices is one way to do that.  “Today we need to clean the house.  Would you rather take out the trash or vacuum?”

5.  Catch them being good-Let a child know that you notice when he cooperates and point out the advantages of teamwork.  “Thanks for playing so nicely with your little brother.  He really enjoys it when you teach him new things!”

6.  Keep them guessing-– Sometimes children respond to the the challenge of being the one who knows the answer.  “Did I ask you to do something before you played?  I can’t remember…”  or ” I bet you don’t know how to put your pajamas on all by yourself… do you?”

7.  Let them lead— Encourage children to not only take initiate but to help in the planning as well:  “Today we need to clean the house. I bet you know the best way to organize that and make it happen in record time.  What should we do first?  Who should do what?”

Developing the ability to work well as part of a community is a process that is continually evolving but will serve your child well as an adult in many diverse settings.  How do you encourage cooperation?  I’d love to hear in the comment section!

Want to read more about…

Developing Children of Character


How do you develop children of character?  In this ebook, you will get tips for developing children who are responsible, generous, self-reliant, happy and courageous.  In addition, I discuss how to help children handle disappointment and friendship problems.  Click on the link below to purchase:

Buy ebook>Developing Children of Character


Ten Engaging Questions to Ask Your Child

As a school counselor, I often talked with parents who were concerned about their inability to engage their children in meaningful conversations.  They’d ask, “What did you do at school today?” and get the standard response:  “Nothing.”  They’d learn from other parents or the teacher about significant events or interactions with other children or adults and wonder why they never heard anything about it.  Instead they learned of assignments that were due the morning of and projects that needed extra supplies when the stores were closed.
Creating the Right Environment is Key
I think that in many ways we have become so focused on doing in our society that we have forgotten how to be and listen.  This translates into our conversations and our conversations translate into the way we feel, act and think.  Before you ask questions, you need to set the stage for more than an “I dunno” answer.  Here’s how:
  • Create a routine where the focus is on conversation.  This might be around the dinner table at night or during a heart to heart conversation at bedtime.  Asking the question while rushing to ball practice or dance class doesn’t work. It also takes practice to learn the art of conversation, so don’t give up if your first attempt fails.
  • Create an understanding environment where any answer is accepted without judgment or a lecture.  This isn’t the time to expound on the ten traits of a successful school career.  You are getting to know your child and what matters to her.
  • Try beginning the conversation by sharing your answer to the question rather than quizzing your child.  Encourage your child to not only answer the question but to ask you questions as well. This is a dialogue.  You are bound to learn something about yourself if you answer these questions too.

Great questions to ask

Here are some intriguing questions to ask your child to start a more meaningful exchange of ideas.

  1. What are five words that describe you and why?  Not only does this question help you know your child, it helps them to define their own self-concept.
  2. What do you love to do that makes you feel happy?  The answer to this question can lead to other questions such as…
  3. What do you know how to do that you could teach someone else?  This helps a child not only value their own abilities but expands their reach in the world.
  4. What was the worst thing that ever happened to you and what did you learn from it? This question helps children see that every situation is full of opportunities to learn.
  5. What is the best thing that ever happened to you and what did you learn from it?  
  6. If you could talk to yourself at this same time last year, what advice would you give yourself?  This is a great way to get children to reflect on things learned and actually coach themselves in how to handle new situations.
  7. If you could change the world, what would you change?  What do you think would be the effect of that change?  This question helps children learn about cause and effect. It also teaches that they do have the power and control to make changes in the world.
  8. What are you grateful for today?  The benefits of focusing on gratitude are well established in research.  It creates a positive mindset and is a great way to begin and end a day.
  9. How can you help someone today?  Helping children develop a servant heart is an important concept to teach.  This question changes the focus from me to you and emphasizes the power we have to impact other’s lives no matter our age.
  10. How do you think that person feels?  Learning to have empathy for others is another important concept to teach.  You can ask this question about a character in a movie, a book you’ve read or someone in real life.

What are some other great questions that you could ask your child today?

Want a great read to help your child deal with a bossy friend?  Try Wyatt the Wonder Dog 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.

Create summertime memories through writing

School Is All Over

School is all over

I’m in the next grade–

And it’s picnics and popsicles,

Pink lemonade,

Sunburns and sailing

And feet that are bare

T-shirts and sneakers

And sand in my hair,

Swimming and rowing

And fisherman’s fun.

It’s hard to believe it,

But summer’s begun.~Alice Low

Don’t you love summer? I think this poem by Alice Low perfectly sums up this special time!  I especially love the beginning of summer when it seems like an endless span of time stretching forever into the future. Kids and adults alike need unstructured days of carefree fun.

Summertime Memories

As a kid I remember roaming around with friends all day exploring, pretending, and playing. Summertime nowadays means working parents, summer camps, neighborhood pools, all-star all-summer sports teams, water-parks and theme parks and video games. I didn’t have any of that growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Family vacation was traveling to North Carolina to visit relatives.  It was days spent at the beach swimming and building sand castles. I’m not sure if children today aren’t missing those lazy  summertime days of yesteryear where we created our own fun rather than expected to be entertained.

Here’s what summertime meant to me:

·         Sleeping in until the sun was blazing in my bedroom window. No air conditioning back then and you had to finally get up to keep from drowning in a pool of sweat.

·         Fishing in the lake across the street. Snagging catfish and trying to figure out how to get them off the hook.

·         Riding our bikes until we found a new creek to explore, a new field to play in

·         Creating whole fantasy worlds, populating them with characters, conflicts, friendships. Acting out all the parts with my best friend and next door neighbor. We were drama queens before anyone had even thought of the stereotype.

·         Giving ourselves new names that we thought were more romantic and personality. Actually using them to talk to each other.

·         Writing my first novel but, never getting past the first chapter which I rewrote over and over

·         Playing games for hours; Monopoly, Canasta, Parcheesi

·        Creating forts wherever we went; in the woods, in the garage rafters, under the jungle gym covered with an old blanket

·         Going to the library and checking out stacks of books, then lying in bed reading them for hours until my body was stiff from the lack of movement

·         Neighborhood Fourth of July parties on the beach. Getting up early and arriving before the sun was even up. Cooking eggs in a skillet over the fire for breakfast, then playing all day long in the sand and the waves.

·         Playing tag and hide and go seek just as it was getting dark. Mom calling us inside when we wanted to stay outside forever and keep playing.

Creating Summertime Memories through Writing

Summertime is a great time to create family memories and to capture them in writing.  There are lots of ways to not only encourage writing throughout the summer but to create a legacy that you can look back on or build upon in years to come.  Here’s ten ways you can engage your child in writing throughout the summer. Don’t just give them as an assignment though. Do them with your child!

· Take your child on an artist date to purchase some things to make writing fun. This doesn’t have to be expensive. The dollar store works fine. Consider a special notebook, pen or pencil or some stickers.

· Write about summer time activities but from the perspective of someone or something else. What would the dog have to say about playing in the yard or a visit to the park? Write from the point of view of an object. Does the frisbee like being thrown around or is it tired?

· Keep a simple travel log–each day list the place, the best thing about the day and the worst thing about the day, draw pictures to illustrate both.  What if you aren’t traveling?  Make an “I Wish Travel Log”  and imagine where you’d like to go.

· Send Wish You Were Here postcards to friends and relatives who live far away–even if you aren’t traveling. Tell them what you miss about them.

· Make a summer newspaper. Have a special events section, a recipe section, sports or weather section, a whatever-topic-you-like section.

· Start a summer memoir. Start with the first summer your child remembers and record memories of each year. Find pictures that go with each summer and add them.

· Create a summertime collage with pictures and words cut out of magazines.

· At the end of each day, write one sentence or just one adjective that describes the day on a calendar.  Save the calendar every summer and you have instant history and memories!

· Start a gratitude journal. Each day write something you are grateful for. Focus on one person for a week or a month and write something each day about that person. Give them the journal when you finish.

· Keep a book-graphy or a videogame-graphy or a dessert-graphy. Record games played, scores and any additional pointers or notes for future players. Record favorite desserts. Describe what makes them so special. Include a recipe.

Enjoy your summer and create lasting family memories!!

What are your favorite summertime memories?  Let me know in the comment section below!

Want a great summertime book with an empowering message?  Check out what happens to Wyatt when he visits his grandparents at the beach:

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning

Helping children develop a servant heart

memorial day

With Memorial Day just around the corner, it’s a great time to teach children about the meaning of the holiday through acts of service.  Just as many men and women are remembered for their service to our country, children can develop a servant heart and a spirit of generosity through learning to serve others.

Schools Develop a Spirit of Service

Developing a servant heart is something that can be started early in small ways and then developed into bigger projects as the child grows.  Schools are perfect environments for this and in addition to teaching children to be helpful and correct injustice, schools can also initiate projects throughout the year.  Not only does this inspire generosity, but it also brings attention to the injustice and inequality in the world.  Everything from UNICEF collections at Halloween to collecting food and coats for homeless shelters can be a call to action for children.

Parents Develop a Spirit of Service

Parents too can encourage this mindset. Determining the child’s interests and concerns and then finding ways to serve in those areas is the best way to get cooperation.  One family I know went to a local shelter to serve lunch every year. Another child began volunteering at a local animal shelter and even writing a column for a neighborhood magazine because of his love of animals. Developing service projects as a family is a great way to not only serve but strengthen family ties at the same time.  Even young children can learn to give food, toys or clothing to those in need.

The best and most life changing service, is service that involves giving of more than our excess. It involves giving our time and energy. Spending a Saturday morning in a soup kitchen for the homeless, or volunteering in a nursing home to visit with residents who have no family are great ways that families can impact their community and ultimately the world. Service that moves us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to make a difference develops children and ultimately adults, of compassion and character.

How does your family teach children to be generous and develop a servant heart?  I’d love to hear in the comment section!

Want to read more about developing children of character?  Check out my ebook:  ebook

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