Category Archives: character development

How to Create a Plan for Better Behavior

I once was counseling the parents of a child who didn’t want to come to school.  After investigating the situation and making sure there wasn’t a bully at school who was intimidating him or a problem with academics that was discouraging him, we talked about setting up a reinforcement program where he could earn something for attending school without morning complaints and tantrums.  The parents were eager and cooperative. They wanted to get Johnny back in the school routine as quickly as possible. The next day I met with Johnny and asked about his new program.  He informed me that if he came to school as planned for the next few weeks, he would earn a vacation on a cruise ship over spring break with his parents.  Obviously, I had failed to clearly explain a reinforcement program and how to choose a reasonable and sensible reward…

In today’s affluent and savvy world of parenting, we are creating what Tim Elmore calls in a post the ‘encore problem’.  As parents we want to create better and better experiences for our children.  We want each year to be better than the next.  We want to wow them. Even when we are impacting a behavior with a behavior plan, we feel the need to create the ultimate reward. The problem?  We are setting the stage to continually up the anti and soon kids start expecting more and more.  If the reinforcement program that Johnny’s parents had designed had worked (and it didn’t-I’ll explain why in a moment), what were they going to do as an incentive for the weeks after spring break?  A trip to Europe? Spaceship to the moon?

Here’s what a behavior reinforcement program is designed to do and how to set up a successful one:

  • A behavior plan helps to clearly identify the behavior(s) that  is a problem and holds the child responsible. It does this by recognizing that the behaviors are a choice and the child is making a choice to cry, whine, not follow directions,  throw a tantrum etc. This seems basic but often behaviors are seen as almost involuntary by both the parent and the child if they have become an established routine.
  • A behavior plan clearly identifies the proper and expected behavior.  For example, in the school avoidance problem described above, we clearly identified how Johnny was expected to act in the morning by describing the best case scenario or a good morning routine.  Making a checklist or writing down the expectations is recommended so everyone is on the same page.
  • A behavior plan sets clear consequences for both expected and unexpected behavior.  The plan should be discussed and written down.  A positive reinforcement or reward should be reasonable and as close time-wise to the positive behavior as possible.  I often recommend earning extra time in the afternoon after school to do something the child enjoys. Improve the reward by involving the parent in the activity.  For example, parent and child could spend extra time outside playing basketball, they could enjoy a movie or video game together, read a book, cook together… really the possibilities are endless. Set a reasonable time limit for the activity of 30 minutes or so .  Make sure the reward is not something you do routinely anyway and then make sure you follow up. Notice that you don’t have to spend money or create an elaborate plan as a positive reinforcement.
  • What if the expected behavior doesn’t occur?  Again there should be a consequence as close to the behavior as possible.  In the school avoidance case mentioned above, it could be no video games or tv for the evening.  It could be no play time outside.  It could be extra time spent studying.  It could be an earlier bedtime.  The consequence should be delivered without lecturing.  There should however be a thorough review of the plan for the next day with an expectation that learning will have occurred through the mistakes made today.  Set the stage for and expect a positive experience in the future.
  • What can go wrong?
    • No follow through and lack of consistency–you have to adhere to the plan long enough for it to work.  How long is long enough?  Until it works. Seriously. That doesn’t mean you don’t review and revise it as needed.  But it also means that you don’t throw up your hands after the first few days if there isn’t a dramatic change in behavior.  It takes time to change behavior.  Think about the last time you tried to change your behavior and do something differently…
    • Creating an impossible or complicated plan— Offering a cruise for good behavior falls into this category.  If the behavior doesn’t occur are you going to cancel the family vacation?  Offering to spend all afternoon shopping with your child for toys if their behavior improves also falls into this category.  Create a plan that is easy to deliver, won’t break the bank and is going to enhance the relationship on many levels.
    • Depending on extrinsic rewards exclusively rather than fostering intrinsic rewards. A reinforcement program is not meant to last forever.  Ultimately the goal is to establish better behavior as a routine.  That is why rewards that encourage better behavior while also developing a closer relationship are ideal.  Continue to process the experience and encourage a learning and growth mindset.

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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

Leadership Lessons for Kids Based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Successful People

 

3 Ways to Develop Resilient Kids

Tuesday, February 7th, I’ll be attending an event raising money for a thirteen year old boy who experienced a brain injury after a biking accident.  In a networking group this week, I talked to a business owner who has had cancer of the eye, his daughter has recovered from a brain tumor and his wife is a breast cancer survivor.  While you probably don’t know these individuals, I bet you know someone who has had similar challenges to overcome. Sometimes it is a physical challenge, sometimes it is an environmental challenge and other times it is a mental challenge.

After talking with someone about personal challenges like this, I always ask, “What is it that sustains you and gets you through the  experience?”   I get a lot of answers but if I were to summarize the attributes of a resilient individual I’d list the following…

  1. A growth mindset instead of a victim mindset–Individuals who believe that change and growth is possible stay engaged in practices that help them overcome their current circumstances. They follow treatment protocols, they ask for help and guidance, they set goals and follow the steps necessary to attain them.  Individuals with a victim mindset give up and allow their  circumstances to control the outcome.
  2. A community environment instead of an isolated environment–Community can take many forms.  For some it is their faith community while for others it is their family or friends and co-workers.  Regardless of who makes up the support community, resilient people don’t try to go it alone.  Difficult as it may be, they learn to ask for and receive help.  They share their struggles with others.  Not only do they reap the benefit but often their challenges pull the community closer together as well.
  3. A personal sense of purpose and identity instead of low self-esteem— Resilient individuals believe they have something unique to offer and they are determined to make a difference in their world through their strengths and skills.  They take failure and hardship in stride as part of the necessary road to success.  They don’t let their circumstances define who they are but maintain a strong sense of self and purpose. They don’t waste time wishing their life was easy and problem free.  Instead they allow their situation to help them develop mental and physical muscles that sustain them through the tough times.

How can we as parents and educators instill resiliency in our children?

  1. Foster a growth mindset–Encourage children to see obstacles as challenges to be overcome.  Instead of asking, “Why me?” teach them to ask “How can I learn from this?”
  2. Create a supportive community–We all need encouragers and teachers in our lives. Don’t wait for a crisis to establish a community in your life or your children’s lives. Develop systems of support and be that support for others as well.
  3. Develop a personal sense of identity and purpose–Help children develop a sense of who they are as worthwhile individuals with something to offer the world. Challenge them to learn from failure and celebrate success.

Related Posts:

Developing Resiliency:  The Story behind Kid President

Before there is Grit, there is pain

5 Ways to Help Children Develop Grit

 

Want to bring the Dream Achiever Academy Training Program to your school? Here’s how:

Dream Achiever Academy Educator Training

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)

 

Is your child a people pleaser?

Is there a child in your life that is a people pleaser?

Are they always looking for  approval and recognition?

Do they worry too much about fitting in?

Do they complain that they have no friends?

Do they have trouble taking initiative, even in situations where they have experience and ability?

Young children are often naturally authentic.  They don’t worry about giving the right answer or comparing their efforts to someone else.  In fact, this was one of the things that made teaching lessons in kindergarten so fun and entertaining.  I never knew what students would say in answer to questions.

However at some point, the comparison trap kicks in and children begin to recognize and value the opinions of others. Soon they are worried about saying the right thing, doing the right thing and even wearing the right clothes.  In her excellent book on The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown pinpoints the age that this begins to show up as around fourth grade, although I think it happens much younger. Brown goes on to define authenticity as the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.  

Considering authenticity a practice is good news for all of us who have been compulsive people pleasers because it means that being authentic is actually a choice albeit a choice that we must make over and over on a daily basis.  How can we share this information with the children in our lives and encourage a lifetime of authenticity rather than comparison and people pleasing?  Teaching and modeling authenticity is tricky business for sure. Here are some tips:

  • Re-frame mistakes and failure as learning not losing.  Look for the opportunity to learn in every experience.  This helps defeat the need to compare my score or success with yours.
  • Praise the effort and intention behind the work rather than the end result.  Teach children to practice self-talk that  models this so that they can encourage themselves to be authentic even when you are not available to encourage them in this direction. As Brene Brown says, “Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you love.”
  • Model authentic behavior as well as a brave attitude when faced with challenges yourself so that you can teach through example as well as words.
  • Use the examples found in the lives of well known people who have followed their own vision and mission rather than conform to the expectations of others.

Related posts:

Teach girls bravery not perfection

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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

 

 

 

 

Related posts:

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Surprising research about praise

What a great job you did!

You aced this test, you are so smart!

The home run you hit saved the day!  You are the best hitter on the team!

In this age of positivism, affirmations and intentions, what could possibly be wrong with praising a child?  Turns out a lot… but the problem isn’t exactly praise.  The problem is the type of praise, what we are focusing on and the perception that it creates in the child.  The consequences of praise are reported in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success and I guarantee that it will change forever how you interact with the children in your life.

Here’s what she discovered:

  • When we praise children for their ability (great job, intelligence, athletic ability etc) we set them up for a fixed mindset.  They believe that they accomplished something great because of their inherent ability and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they feel they must perform equally well.  Consequently they are always concerned about perfect performance and measuring up.  They often lack confidence and shy away from situations that are hard because they are afraid of exposing their deficits and calling into question their talent or ability.
  • When we praise children for their effort, we set them up for a growth mindset. They believe that they accomplished something because of their effort and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they are open to seeing it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.  Whether they are successful or not, they are willing to take action and learn from the results.  Here are some examples:
    • This report is amazing.  I can tell you put in a lot of time in research.
    • You made an A on the test!  I can tell you really studied hard.
    • Your home run saved the day.  Looks like all that time practicing paid off.

What does this mean for parents and educators?

For most of us it means that we need to make a shift from focusing on labeling children, even with positive labels like gifted, smart or talented.  Labels and praising kids for their ability has been clearly shown in Dweck’s research to handicap the child for the future by creating a fixed mindset.  On the other hand, praise that identifies effort and specific methods of being successful, creates a growth mindset and prepares children for the many challenges and new situations they will face.  It is the equivalent of inoculating children for the inevitable disappointments they will encounter while providing the confidence to move forward with new challenges.

Related posts:

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 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

 

The growth mindset and success

Which statement describes what you believe:?

  1. You can learn new things but you really can’t change your IQ very much.  It is just something that is just part of your DNA.
  2. You can not only learn new things but substantially change how intelligent you are.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck distinguishes between two very different mindsets that she discovered among students in her research.  She describes them like this:

The fixed mindset is one where the student believes that their personality, their intelligence, ability or skill is unchangeable.  Consequently, if you believe in the fixed mindset and do well in school you were obviously born smart and without too much effort you will ace the next test and ultimately the class.  If you were born with athletic ability, you will be an asset to the team and while you will benefit from training you’ve got what it takes to be a star.  The flip side of this mindset is the belief that if you were born without the necessary intelligence or athletic ability, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you will not be successful or attain your goals.  Students with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges and situations that seem too hard.  They tend to avoid failure by sticking to things that they know they can master easily.

The growth mindset is one where a student believes that their personality, intelligence, ability or skill is changeable and with focused effort and training they can change the outcome.  If you are failing algebra class, you can redouble your efforts, learn the necessary material and pass the class.  If you aren’t the best athlete on your team, you can train and develop the necessary skill you need to become a top notch team player. Students with growth mindsets tend to embrace challenges. Rather than wallow in failure or give up when the going gets tough, they focus instead on the process necessary to attain the goal.

While Dweck distinguishes between the two separate mindsets, she is quick to point out that they frequently overlap.  A student may believe that they are just plain dumb in math and can’t master it, while at the same time believing that with enough effort and practice they can become the next Michael Jordan.  The important piece of the equation is recognizing the mindset and teaching children not just how to cope with failure but how to think about  failure as a learning process and a stepping stone to a goal.

Changing Fixed to Growth

Here’s how we as adults can  help children develop a growth mindset, (yes even our mindset can be changed)…

  • Help children recognize that learning is truly a life long process.  We never arrive at the final destination.  No matter how advanced your knowledge of math, or technology or a sport, there is always more to learn.  That is why the great athletes still have coaches.
  • Help children re-frame failure and disappointing results as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Encourage them to ask “What can I learn from this?” and “Where is the opportunity in this?” rather than focus on comparing themselves to others’ results and abilities.
  • Help children measure growth and success by comparing their current abilities with where they started rather than comparing their current ability with the end result or someone else.  While goals help us chart the course, it is not a good yardstick for achievement.

Finally, one of the best ways to influence the children in your life is by recognizing and if necessary, changing your own mindset from fixed to growth.  Make sure you are modeling and reinforcing a growth mindset in all you do.

Related posts

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Check out how Wyatt’s Grandmother helps him develop a growth mindset…

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)

 

Teach girls bravery not perfection

Reshma Saujani is a woman with a mission.  She is on a campaign to change the way that we socialize young girls. Her premise is this: girls are taught to be perfect, while boys are taught to be brave.  This immediately resonated with me for two reasons:

  • As a young girl, I can think of numerous times when I was taught to be perfect; to do the right thing, follow the rules and make good grades.  I received much encouragement and affirmation for efforts in that direction.  I can’t think of a single time that I was taught to be brave and take a risk.
  • In my coaching business I work with a lot of women with big dreams for the future. What usually holds them back?  Certainly not talent or ability.  Almost always it is the fear that they won’t get it right.  They will often fail to make changes for fear that they will make the wrong decision and go down the wrong path… even though they know that the path they are on now is not a good fit.

How does this happen? 

Reshma discovered a similar thing.  In her effort to challenge more young women to tackle careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), she realized that part of the problem was that young girls were not exposed to role models of women who followed careers in these areas.  When she began intentionally introducing them to successful women in STEM careers, she discovered that was only part of the problem.

As she began opening mental and experiential doorways to these young girls, she discovered that these young girls often did not choose STEM careers because they ran the risk of being wrong.  In other words, they were not willing to take imperfect actions and make mistakes.  Instead they gravitated toward careers that they knew they could be good, even perfect in.  Girls, Rashem says, are socialized to do the right thing, make others proud and follow the rules.  Boys on the other hand are socialized to take risks, play hard and take failure in stride as a way to get ahead. By the time they are adults, boys have been rewarded repeatedly for taking risks and they are accustomed to it.  Girls on the other hand view risk as something to be avoided.

Research supports Reshma’s premise.  In a study by Carol Dweck, the psychologist found a decided difference between 5th grade girls and boys when given challenging work.  The higher the IQ, the more likely the girls were to give up.  Boys on the other hand, viewed the work as something to be overcome and persisted in solving problems.  Another way bravery vs perfection is demonstrated is in application for employment.  Men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the job qualifications.  Women on the other hand will apply only if they meet 100% of the job qualifications.

Want to learn more?  Here is Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk on teaching girls bravery, not perfection:

How can you help?

As parents and educators we have the ability to change this mindset among young girls. For years we have been concerned that  girls do not maximize their abilities, but we have focused on increasing self-esteem through praise and affirmation.  While this is important, what if its possible that we are focusing on the wrong characteristic?

Here are some ways that you can teach girls (and boys) to be brave:

  • Encourage imperfect action instead of perfect results— Much of problem solving and critical thinking is not about getting the right answer.  It is about trial and error. It is about research and development.  Children who learn to value this above perfect solutions will eventually get the desired result. You can do this by sharing your own failures and how you coped with them.   As Thomas Edison said about inventing the light bulb, ” I haven’t failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Praise specific effort not generalities–It is much more effective and helpful to say, “You really worked hard studying for that test.” than to say, “You made an A?  You are so smart!”  When you affirm effort, you help a student prepare for the future and learn strategies.  Effort is something the child has control over.  Being smart on the other hand is more something that is inherited.  And what does the alternative mean?  If they fail the next test, are they no longer smart?
  • Recognize and encourage brave actions–Foster brave actions by re-framing difficulties as challenges.  Don’t protect children from failure.  Instead teach them how to cope with it rather than giving up.  Teach children how to take calculated risks.

Related Posts:

Before there is grit, there is pain

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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