Category Archives: MYT For Families

Is Obedience a Desirable Characteristic in Children?

By Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed.

mother-child-talking-300x199I was in the book store recently with my oldest and youngest children looking for a gift for my wife’s birthday. While shopping I ran into a mother of one of the children who attended our school about 10 years ago. As I usually do, I asked how her daughter was doing in school. The mother responded that her child was doing very well academically, but had made a few trips to the principal’s office recently, and implied that her child could be “sassy.”

I found myself smiling as told me this, as I remembered her child well. She was certainly had a big personality and strong will. I could certainly see how she might end up in the principal’s office from time to time. Interestingly, I found this information comforting. I was glad she still had her strong personality, and while I’m sure the time in the principal’s office wasn’t pleasant, I was also glad she had been questioning authority.

Now, I must admit, that I can say these “blasphemous” things with some authority, because I also spent my time in the principal’s office and at the back of the room when I was a student. Now, as a principal (Head of School), I receive children just like myself and the girl above, in my office from time to time. I appreciate them, and I see them as a barometer to how we treat children in our school.

In our school, we actually view obedience as a form of misbehavior. Misbehavior meaning a behavior that is not conducive to personal or social growth and harmony. Sometimes adults will do a double take when we express this idea. After all, shouldn’t children respect their elders, and trust in our guidance and direction? Let’s consider the word obedience as defined by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary; “to be submissive to authority; yielding willingly to commands, orders or injunctions.” Is this what we really want for our children? Is this a quality that employers or our society really needs?

A now famous report conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, published in the early 90’s, entitled “What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000”, identified personal qualities that employers needed to be competitive in the growing global economy. In addition to basic academic skills, like reading, writing, math and communication skills, the research indicated that employers were in need of foundational personal qualities like individual responsibility, self-esteem, integrity, self-management, decision making and problem solving ability, creative thinking, and the ability to reason and know how to learn. Nothing about obedience! A recent Forbes article also discussed what employers are now looking for in future employees:

As a parent, I really want my children to be cooperative, respectful and helpful. But I also want them to experience respect, cooperation, and helpfulness. I want them to know that they are valued, that they are safe to make and learn from their mistakes, and that they are capable. I want them to value others, and give them the respect to learn from their mistakes and give them the room to experience their capability. I want them to question authority, even my authority, when it is appropriate! I also want them to learn to trust authority when that is appropriate.

Respect and obedience are not the same thing. But, it can be confusing as a parent. In a moment when I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, obedience from my children sounds like the perfect elixir to all that ails me in that moment. But what am I teaching them if I promote obedience as a value or a virtue? Am I preparing them for the decisions that they will have to make on their own, when I am not around (drugs, personal safety, sex, friends, moral choices, etc.)? Am I preparing them to live in a world where they are needed to solve problems, manage themselves and think creatively? As a colleague of mine said, “We complain about strong-willed children, but do we really want weak-willed children?”

What most parents are really seeking is cooperation rather than obedience. So, how can we create an environment where children can develop their personal autonomy, have a voice (respectfully), develop reasoning skills, and want to be cooperative? Below I have outlined a beginning, using steps for building cooperation with children. Next month, I will also focus on how to use family meetings to help develop cooperation and autonomy at the same time.

Building Cooperation with Your Children

  1. Take time to listen. Dig deep to understand where your child is coming from when you and he/she have a problem. Take a deep breath and try to see things from their point of view, even if their view isn’t logical. Express understanding. “So, it sounds like you’re really angry that you have to clean your room because you really wanted to go with your friends to the pool. ” Check to see if you are right.
  1. Show empathy. You don’t have to agree or condone your child’s point of view, just that you understand their perception. “I understand how disappointed you must be that you had to skip the pool time to clean your room. I had to miss a golf game this week because I didn’t get my monthly report finished on time.”
  1. Share Your Perceptions or Feelings. Be honest. “I am feeling frustrated, myself. Saturday morning is the time we clean our rooms, and you chose not to do it then. Then you blamed me for your missing the pool trip because your room wasn’t clean yet.” If you really listened and expressed empathy in the first two steps, your child should be open to listening to you.
  1. Problem Solve Together. Invite your child to help you come up with a solution to the problem. “What can we do to solve this problem?” or “What could you/we do in the future to avoid this problem?”

With an attitude of kindness and openness, and willingness on your part to solve vs. direct, you will be surprised how well this tool works.

An Interesting Mistake

By Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed.

limiting-kids-screen-timeIn our house we limit screen time to weekends when the children are allowed to watch one movie per weekend day. If you limit screen time in your house, you may have a child like mine who will go to any lengths to get just a few minutes in front of a screen, even if it means breaking the house ground rules. We use a logical consequence when one of the children sneak screen time, that consequence is “If you abuse it you lose it.” The child who sneaks it will lose screen time on one of the weekend days. We joke that my oldest son has forfeited more screen time than he has actually experienced because of his proclivity to smuggle electronic devices into his room for his personal, unauthorized, viewing pleasure.

Recently, my oldest son was caught with my wife’s Kindle in his room. She went looking for it and found it under his covers. (You may ask, how did she know to look in his bed? In our home, his room is the second place you would look after looking in the place you thought you’d left it.) So, accordingly, he lost a day of screen time for the upcoming weekend. And just like I did when I was his age, he tested the limits, and smuggled screen time again, not too long afterward.

Fast forward, three weeks later: my son hasn’t watched a movie since the initial Kindle incident because of continued smuggling. Then his birthday arrived, and I was feeling sorry for him because he couldn’t watch a movie with his brothers. I knew what to do – I should hold the limits firmly, even if it was his birthday. But, I caved and let him watch the move as a “birthday treat”.

Almost immediately I began to regret my decision. My son responded to my act of mercy by pushing the limits around screen time even more; trying to watch things that he wasn’t allowed to, taking control of the programming from his brothers, etc. I wanted to be angry, but I knew what was happening. My son, like all children, want to know that the adults in his life will be consistent and do what we say we’re going to do much more than they want to watch television. My son was saying, in his own way, that he preferred the limits. And I know, that limits are meant to be tested, otherwise how would we know where they really are.

Shortly after his birthday, my son asked me if he could have his screen time back, even though he had three more weekend days of screen time to forgo. My response to him was, “What would I be teaching you by eliminating the consequence for your choices?” He thought for a moment and said, “Good point.” Inside I laughed knowingly. Children are our best teachers.

Louis CK, one of my favorite comics, was on the Conan Obrien Show recently. During his interview he began talking about parenting, which is part of his schtick. Sardonically, yet prophetically, he mused that his job was not to make his children happy. He said, “I’m not raising children. I’m raising the gown ups they’re going to be.”

As I began to reflect on this discussion, I thought about my decision to remove the no screen time consequences for my son’s birthday. I made a mistake. One that I learned from, but a mistake nonetheless. I asked myself the same question that I asked him. What was I teaching him be removing that consequence? In attempting to make him happy by rescuing him I was actually setting him up for disappointment and dependence upon me for his happiness. When do I want him to learn that he can be happy despite his circumstances, and that he can accept responsibility for his actions and learn to make better decisions by himself?

So, on this Thanksgiving of 2013, I am grateful for my children and for lessons that they continue to teach me, as I continue on the road to becoming a better parent.

Encouragement Using More Than Words

By Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed

encouragementHave you ever worked for someone who expected more of you than you thought you were capable of, and then found that you were more capable than you realized? And, have you ever worked for someone who spoon fed you when you knew you could do more? Which would you prefer?

In one of my favorite parenting books, “Children the Challenge”, Rudolph Dreikurs devotes an entire chapter to the subject of encouragement.   Dreikurs believed that “Children need encouragement like plants need water.” What still strikes me about this section of his book, is that nearly 2/3 of the chapter focuses on encouraging children through holding them accountable, in a supportive manner, for what the adult knows they are capable of and responsible for. Only 1/3 of that chapter is devoted to verbal encouragement (which, too is important). Many of us have had experiences where someone encouraged, not by mere words, but through their actions; by not letting us “get away with” something that was less than what we were capable of. When we look back at those experiences, how did it affect us? How did it affect how we felt about ourselves, and our sense of our own capability?

In 1986, after nearly failing out of college, I joined the Air Force. I was an undisciplined kid, and I was looking for structure and guidance. I looked very much like many of the students that I have had as a teacher. When I finished boot camp and crew chief (general aircraft maintenance) training I was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and assigned to work on F-15’s. It was incredibly exciting to be part of a team that maintained and launched these incredible machines each day. While I had the same complaints about the service as any 19 year old, the most liberating part of my experience was the level of responsibility that I was given. After only 6 months, I was working on the flight line, responsible for inspecting and maintaining a 30 million dollar aircraft. My signature meant something. In order for the plane to take off, it needed my signature verifying that the plane was inspected and safe to fly. I could also ground the plane with my signature if it was not in flying condition.

Collectively, the Air Force had more confidence in me than I had in myself. I didn’t know that I could do the things I was doing until someone not only showed me how to do them, but held me responsible for what I could do. Individually, I was also worked under a number of superiors who didn’t allow me or others to do only what we thought we were capable of. I’m sure that many of us young men and women thought to ourselves, “12 hour shifts, isn’t that a long time to work?” We quickly realized that we could do it; it’s just that you never had the “opportunity” to find out before. Of course, we weren’t given the choice, but even the lack of choice felt inspiring.

At the end of my enlistment, I was a confident young man (maybe even too confident). I felt that I could do a lot, and that I was capable of facing challenges successfully, solving problems myself and with others, and overcoming hardships. While I couldn’t have seen it at the time, working in freezing cold weather, with bloody knuckles from slipped tool, helped me to develop a unique confidence in myself. Many years later, now an educator and parent, I know that without others placing confidence in my abilities, and holding me accountable for those abilities, I would not have developed the self-image that I left the service with.

Children are a myriad of thoughts, feelings and decisions. They are constantly making decisions about who they are, who you are, and what they will do next. While we’d all like to get in their minds and help them make the best decisions possible for them, it’s not possible. All we can do as adults is to prepare an environment where children are likely to make the best decisions possible. We all need encouragement, but children need it to thrive.

Again, think back to your own experience, to that teacher, supervisor, friend or family member who expected more of you than you realized that you were capable of, and how you felt when you realized that you were capable. How can we prepare our home and school environments in a way that encourages children with more than just words?

Taking time for Teaching

All children have different tolerances for taking risks. Some children seem to just naturally be willing to try something new or solve a problem that they have never seen. Taking time to teach tasks or skills, step-by-step, will meet the needs of all children, no matter how they approach something new.

Younger children, ages 3-7 need definite and concrete steps when learning something new. Sometimes adults will confuse younger children by giving too many options in how to approach a task or skill. They are trying to be respectful and flexible, but younger children are still developing reason, and learn from their experiences. So, so don’t be afraid to choose a very specific way to teach them the task or skill, and then let them experiment with different methods as they become capable in following your directions. Taking the time to teach, helps children understand how to do something clearly, and helps adults better understand what they can expect from the child.

As children become more capable with a task or skill that has been taught to them, be sure to step back and let them do it themselves. When it’s time to take a step back, be sure to give the risk taker some more room to experiment and learn through his own experience and mistakes. With children who are less likely to take risks, take small steps back, but be sure to step back!


Provide Challenge

In our hurried lives, it is so much easier in the moment to do something for our child (or adolescent) that they can do for themselves. If we take some time to do a quick inventory, what things are we doing for our children that they could be doing for themselves or for the family? What are some things that would be a stretch for them to do that you feel they could learn?

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • A 3-year old can learn to sort and put silverware away.
  • Elementary aged children can choose and make their own lunch.
  • 7-8 year-olds can learn to do dishes, and their own laundry!
  • 9-10 year olds can learn to cook breakfast (and clean up), and prepare other simple meals.
  • 11-12 year olds can learn to paint trim, and other small projects around the house.
  • 12-14 year olds can learn to mow the lawn and use a power washer.




Encourage Mistakes

Mistakes are an opportunity to learn! Many of us grew up where mistakes were just mistakes. If you are teaching your child or teenager to do a new task or skill, be sure to be in the vicinity as they are trying things out on their own. It may mean an investment in time to begin with, but it will be well worth it in the long run. When your child makes a mistake, help them navigate through the challenge by asking them some questions for consideration:

  • What happened?
  • What caused that to happen?
  • How do you think you can solve that problem?
  • What would happen if….?

Provide Accountability and Show Faith in Them

After the excitement of learning something new begins to wane is when some of the most important life lessons occur. In my experience above, after the glow of being a new F-15 crew chief began to fade (and the weather got cold), the reality of daily responsibilities took over. It wasn’t always fun. However, that’s when I learned that I was able to be resilient and truly capable. How many adults still haven’t learned the lesson that they can still do something well, even if they don’t want to do it or don’t like doing it?

Setting up agreements with children and teens ahead of time, and being specific about expectations is crucial to being able to effectively follow through. Encouragement can take place when adults show faith in their children’s ability to work through difficulty. Here is an effective method for establishing agreements and follow-through with older children and teens:

  1. Have a friendly conversation about the topic at a neutral time. Be sure that the conversation goes both ways.
  2. Create a plan together.
  3. Agree on a specific outcome and deadline.
  4. Understand that it is likely that the child or teen will not meet the deadline (limits are not limts until they’re tested). Follow-through kindly and firmly. You can say something simple like, “What was our agreement?” and then simply smile knowingly.

It is important to set our own reasonable expectations regarding children’s response to follow through. Too often, adults expect children to have the same priorities they do, and this can be a recipe for argument, anger and rebellion. When adults hold children accountable, it is helpful to understand that children or teens will naturally push the limits that have been set. Understanding this and planning ahead for their response can help keep adults calm and prepared rather than feeling the need to argue.


Until next time…

Does External Motivation Lead To Failure?


carrot_stickBy Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed 

When I was in my mid-twenties I worked for a couple of Fortune 500 corporations in a sales capacity. As I continued in sales, my skills developed and I became more successful; selling more, gaining greater recognition, and winning sales incentives. Each year the company offered an all-expense paid trip to an exotic location as a sales incentive. The first sales incentive I won was a cruise to Mexico, and couldn’t wait to attend. I felt proud of my accomplishments, and of the recognition that I received in the office, and looked forward to traveling and reveling in my newfound success. The trip was terrific. I had a wonderful time, and a couple weeks later I was back at work. Within a few months of returning from the cruise, the company started advertising the next year’s trip. I remember feeling strange about the upcoming trip. It sounded exciting, and I had very good chance of winning it. Yet, I started feeling resentful.

Why would someone feel resentful about having just returned from a free cruise and about the potential of winning another vacation? I didn’t know. But I couldn’t get away from the thought that I was somehow being manipulated. As I began to question myself, it struck me that while I was proud of winning the cruise, and was grateful for the opportunity, winning the cruise was not why I sold the volume that I did. I did it because I wanted to be a good salesman. I wanted to be a good salesman for me. The recognition and rewards were terrific, and I certainly enjoyed making more money. But that’s not why I worked so hard. So, when I saw the advertisement for the next sales trip, I actually felt insulted. Did the company really think that I would not work hard and provide good service to my clients if I didn’t have a carrot in front of me?

I don’t think for a minute that the company that I worked for intended to insult me or the rest of their sales force (and I didn’t ask others how they felt because I thought that I must just be weird), or thought we were so unmotivated that we needed a carrot dangled in front of us to be to work hard and make sales. I just think that they thought it would be an effective strategy to provide a reward, which would serve as an incentive, and would be a win/win for everyone. However, that’s not how I interpreted it.

Of course, you might be saying to yourself, one man’s internal experience does not make for sound research. If that is so, you are absolutely correct. Lucky for all of us there is now a lot of research happening that is seeking to quantify what motivates people to do what they do. A recent New York Times article outlined a research project, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by two Swarthmore College professors, on internal vs. external (instrumental motivation). The research actually found that not only was instrumental motivation ineffective, it could actually be counterproductive.

The study analyzed data from over 11,000 entering cadets in nine classes at West Point, the United States Military Academy. Each of the cadets was asked to quantify the motivation that they had for applying to and attending the academy. The motives given on the questionnaire included instrumental motivations, like future career opportunities, as well as internal motivations like learning to become a leader in the U.S. Army. The research found that those cadets with higher internal motivations for attending the academy were more likely to graduate and obtain a commission in the army. Those with stronger internal motivations were also more successful in their military service, and were more likely to stay in the military after their commitment was complete than their counterparts with high instrumental motivations for attending West Point. The researchers were not surprised by these findings. However what did surprise them was that those cadets who had both strong internal and strong instrumental motivations for attending the academy actually performed worse on every measure, across the board than did the cadets who had strong internal motives but weak instrumental motives. (

This is striking information. External motivators are counterproductive. There has been research that has shown that school children perform better academically when the focus has been on internal motivation vs. praise and external validation for work and behavior. However, this study not only suggests that internal motivation is more productive, it suggests that external motivators actually decrease performance. I bet the company I worked for in my twenties would have liked to have that information! It would have saved them a lot of money in incentives.

In the world of education, when teachers were surveyed, it was found that the number one motivator for teacher retention is not financial compensation (although I don’t think you’d need a study to figure that one out!). The greatest motivator for teachers to stay in their current position was professional development and a culture of professional growth.

For those of us with children this is vital information, and it also presents some difficulty in how to make use of this information. How do we develop and encourage internal motivation? It is much easier to talk about methods of externally motivating children: sticker charts, trophies, good grades, rewards, video game time, and maybe even cruises (that one might be a little expensive)! These are all ideas that the adult can control and implement. However, if children are motivated to be successful, to cooperate, to become productive citizens because of their own internal drives, then how do we help them develop their internal motivation? I would highly recommend Jane Neslen’s Positive Discipline as a great place to start. Below are some foundational methods for helping uncover children’s potential.

Nurturing Internal Motivation

  1. Observation, observation, observation. Every child is so incredibly different. If you have more than one child, it probably didn’t take you too long to figure out that nurture is only part of the equation. Each child seems to come hard wired with their own proclivities, preferences, talents and interests. It is our job to nurture these children, but we’ve got to work with the raw material given to us, no? Putting aside our agendas for our children and looking at them with fresh eyes of a scientist, with keen observation skills, will help us to see them for who are and help guide them to activities, classes, hobbies, sports and pursuits that follow and support their natural gifts.
  1. Don’t worry. Be careful of caving into the external and perceived pressures of other parents. There are always children who mature earlier, have skills and talents that develop when they are younger, and there are always children who blossom later. Have faith in your child and the internal drive that exists within them. My son didn’t start playing guitar until he was 11, when many of his friends were taking music lessons at a very young age. My wife and I took the approach that we would wait until he expressed interest. It was difficult, and we questioned whether we should be pushing him a little more. When he did start asking about guitar we found a teacher and signed him up for lessons, and bought him a guitar. We never have to ask him to practice; it’s not even an issue, and as a result he’s getting very good. Sometimes we have to ask him not to practice because he’s got other things, like chores, that need to be done. Many of his friends who were taking music lessons at a much younger age have now quit their instruments. Hopefully, they have found something else they like to do.
  1. Avoid praise! Praise is external validation for accomplishments. Children need encouragement, but praise and encouragement are very different. Praise focuses on the result and external evaluation by the adult, and invites pleasing behavior and can create pressure on children to perform. Encouragement causes a child to reflect upon their own accomplishments and hard work, and develops introspection self-evaluation.

Here are some examples of praise: “Great job,” “Excellent,” “Awesome, you’re the best,” “You won,” “You did it just like I asked you to,” “Fantastic,” etc.

Here are some examples of encouragement: “Thank you, I really needed your help,” “How do you feel about your work,” “What do you think allowed you to win,” “Tell me about the game,” “I noticed that you worked really hard on that assignment,” etc.

  1. Avoid rewards, and encourage helpfulness. Alfred Adler, one of the fathers of modern psychology, observed that humans find the belonging and significance that they deeply desire primarily through helping others (social responsibility). In short, children want to help. They, like adults feel good and important when they make a contribution and understand that they are needed. Consider eliminating rewards or payment for chores, helpfulness or jobs around the house, and instead acknowledging contributions specifically with gratitude. For instance, “Julian, the bathroom really needed cleaning today, and I would have never been able to get to it. Thank you very much for your help. It allowed me to get to my appointment on time.” All people really want to help, but often children aren’t given the opportunity in our busy lives.

Show Faith in Me


By Art DeLorenzo

Take a moment to think back to your own childhood: Do you remember a time, as a child, that an adult had confidence in you? How did it feel? How did you respond? What decisions did you make about yourself?

Children are always thinking, acting and making decisions about who they are and what they will do. Despite our best efforts, it is not possible to get in there and make those decisions for them. All we can do is create an environment that supports a child in making healthy decisions about themselves and for themselves.

When I was 19 I joined the Air Force after almost failing out of my first semester of college. I was a capable student, but not motivated academically, and certainly not certain as to why I was in college. It was a confusing time, and I had very little confidence in myself or in what my purpose was. A few months after basic training the Air Force sent me to “Technical School” to learn how to be a Crew Chief on fighter jets. Crew Chiefs are given the overall responsibility of inspecting, overseeing maintenance and doing general maintenance on a specific aircraft. After tech school I was assigned to a base on the East Coast, and began working on the flight line. I was responsible for an aircraft for 8 -10 hours per day, given responsibility that very few 19 year olds are given outside of the armed forces. I was also lucky enough to work for Master Sergeant May, who showed an incredible amount of faith in me, and other young airman, and expected a lot from us. What happened was that I began to feel a sense of confidence in myself that I had never felt before. I felt capable, needed, and I had a sense of purpose. I was well trained, trusted to be responsible, and held accountable for that responsibility. In a short time, I enrolled at a nearby university and finished my bachelor’s degree in 3 year, while working full time in the Air Force, and graduated third in my class.

The above experience shaped me, and who I became. The environment around me helped me to make decisions about myself that were healthy, and build a deep sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. Conversely, I have also had experiences where adults around me did not have high expectations for me, did things for me that I could do for myself, and didn’t hold me accountable for my actions. And, while some of those experiences felt good at first (like eating a chocolate bar when you’e hungry), they left me feeling lethargic, unmotivated, and with and unwillingness and a lack of confidence in myself to overcome obstacles and adversity.

Too often, we pamper and rescue children without intending to. In an effort to help them, and not see them suffer discomfort, adults often jump in and over-help, doing for children what they can do for themselves. Alternatively, we also hold children accountable for what they haven’t been taught to do, and criticize them for not knowing or understanding something that seems so obvious to us.

As a parent, what I took from my experience in the Air Force was that I blossomed when others had faith in me. They showed faith in me in two ways: First, it was assumed that I was capable to learn a skill that required me to assume a lot of responsibility, but not more than I could handle. While I might not have known that I was capable, they knew that 19 year olds could be taught to be capable. Second, I was given responsibility for what I was taught and held to high expectations. This meant that I had to work hard, and work through adversity because I was responsible for something very important. I was needed, and felt significant.

When we show faith in children and young adults we create an environment where they develop confidence, courage and faith in themselves and their abilities. In order to show faith in children it is really important that we understand what they are capable of, developmentally. For instance, did you know that you can teach a 20 month old child how to put silverware away! I do now, after a friend of mine posted a photo of her grandchild sorting silverware into the proper sections of the silverware drawer, on a stool. I also found out that my 11 year old can drive a motor boat on a lake independently after some lessons. One of the best ways to begin to see what our children can do is to observe other children and other parents. Watch them. See what other children are doing that your child might be able to do. Also, watch what other parents do for their children that they can do for themselves. Watch the children’s reactions, and their behavior. What decisions might they be making about themselves and what they will do?

In my experience that I recounted about the Air Force, was that there wasn’t anyone there to rescue me when I had difficulties. It was assumed that I would seek out the answer and work through a problem. As a result I began to learn how to work through adversity, get help when I needed it, and to solve problems. Now, as a parent and an educator, I try to create an environment at home and at school where our children have the freedom to make mistakes and problem solve without rescuing, lecturing or fixing. This means, of course, that they also need to have a lesson sometimes on how to accomplish what it is that they are being held responsible for working through.

Here are some tools to use in showing faith in children:

  1. Take time for teaching. Find tasks or responsibilities that are developmentally appropriate and challenging (children love challenges) for you children. Do the task yourself, and break it down into “bite sized” pieces so you can show your child one step at a time. If they have difficulty mastering the series of steps, then show them the first few, let them master that part of the job, and then show them the next series of steps when they are ready.
  2. Instead of rescuing, or fixing things when you see your child having difficulty, allow them to work through it. Say, “I know that you can handle this, I have faith in you.”
  3. Allow children to exercise their disappointment muscles. Like us, children learn through their experiences, positive and negative. Have you ever learned an important lesson through a disappointing experience? “Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” ~ Morihei Ueshiba
  4. Be sure to show empathy and understanding when a child experiences difficulty and disappointment. Kind and firm at the same time is the key to successfully showing faith in someone else. “I know that you’re really disappointed. I would be too. I have faith in you that you can figure this out.”



By Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed.

A number of years ago, a young girl in my classroom (we’ll call her Marsha) was caught doing something unkind to one of her friends (let’s call her friend Jan). As I have always done, I brought the two children together to talk about the situation and to problem solve. The conversation, however, took a turn for the worse, when the Marsha burst into deep, uncontrollable sobs. Her friend, Jan, was taken aback and couldn’t understand why her friend was so upset. Wasn’t she the one who should be crying! Nevertheless, Marsha was inconsolable.

After things settled down, and I began to talk to Marsha about what had happened, she disclosed why she was so upset. During our conversation, Marsha did not mention that she felt remorse for hurting her friend’s feelings, or that she was worried about damaging the relationship. She was mortified for having done something wrong; and even more devastated that her mistake had been seen by others.

Marsha was the perfect student. She excelled academically (after high school she attended one of the most prestigious ivy league schools in the country); she always followed the classroom ground rules; she excelled in extra-curricular activities; she was cooperative with adults and other children; and, she could always be counted on to do “the right thing.” She was the model of “good behavior.” However, when she made a significant error in attempt at something challenging, or made a social or relational mistake she felt like a failure, that she was inadequate.

All humans crave the acceptance of our fellows. We want to belong and feel significant. It is part of our makeup. According to Alfred Adler, the reason that children (and adults) misbehave is because they are discouraged in their attempt to gain belonging and significance, even if that discouragement comes from their own perception rather than reality.

Marsha’s “good behavior” was actually misbehavior. While her outwardly “good conduct” had significant rewards, socially and academically, she was terrified of not being perfect and making a mistake that might meet with disapproval, which, to her, would mean that she was bad. She put herself under incredible pressure. These feelings and perceptions in a child, if left unchecked, are potentially dangerous. They can manifest themselves in some pretty serious difficulties, including but not limited to depression and anxiety. For a child, like Marsha, one of my goals was to help her to learn to be comfortable making mistakes, and even comfortable “getting in trouble.”

Adults, with the best of intentions, and without realizing it, often invite the misbehavior of perfectionism or “good behavior” by putting too much emphasis on a child being good. It can take the form of over-validation and praise, as well as over-correcting when a child makes a mistake. For the child who naturally leans towards being good or perfect and pleasing adults, too much validation or criticism can actually cause them to become dependent upon the praise of others. When this occurs, they become much less able to bounce back from the smallest of mistakes, and their good behavior is motivated by an attempt to win approval and not by self-fulfillment through social responsibility.

To help children who have the inclination to please or be the “good child” it is vital to create an environment where it is OK to make mistakes. For the Marsha’s of the world, they need to know that they are OK even if they make a mistake, and that mistakes are truly an opportunity to learn, and not a judgment on who they are. It is also important to help them to wean off external validation, and to focus on progress rather than outcomes. If you have a “good child”, here are some suggestions to help them build their own emotional resilience and confidence:

  1. Focus on the process and progress when giving encouragement. “I notice that you worked really hard on that piece of work.” Or, “You seem really interested in the guitar. Tell me about it.”
  1. Avoid comparison talk, and instead focus on contributions and feelings. “You got three hits this game, and helped your team to score two more runs. How do you feel about your contribution?”
  1. When a child makes a mistake emphasize mistakes being the opportunity to learn, and celebrate the mistake and the effort. “Congratulations, I noticed that you made three mistakes. That means you tried and had an opportunity to learn and fix them. Nice work.”
  1. For older children, talk about what you see in their behavior, and how you can support them. “I notice that you’re really hard on yourself when you make mistakes, and that you are really worried about disappointing me. I love you, not what you do. Let’s work on a plan together so I can help support you in not being perfect!”
  1. Encourage risks. The “good child” often chooses activities because they know they will be successful. With kindness, and a smile, let them know what you see. “I notice that you always choose the younger children to play checkers with. Is it possible you may need to take some more risks and lose a little more?”
  1. Make sure your children get the message that getting up is more important than falling down. Be sure to give tons of encouragement for a child’s resilience rather than the outcome.
  1. Allow your kids to quit activities only after an agreed number of tries (I would suggest 3-5 tries). Not giving them an out and making them finish the entire session of a lesson or a season may inhibit a perfectionist from trying another activity. Also, allowing them to quit after only trying something once may set up a pattern of quitting as a solution to not being the best.

“If I could eliminate forever four phrases from our language in the interest of healthy people, it would be “good boy, “bad boy,” “good girl,” and “bad girl,” and all their related derivatives. Keep what people do separate from who they are so that a bad act doesn’t make a person bad nor a good act make a person good. This is an important key to healthy self-esteem.”1


  1. Stephen Glenn, Developing Healthy Self Esteem (Orem, UT: Empowering People Books, Tapes and videos, 1989 videocassette)



Who Should Take the Time Out?

A number of years ago I taught a class of twelve 6-9 year olds (grades 1-3) in a school room that was converted from an old farm house. I was only one of two teachers in the school, and I was also the sole administrator for the school. This meant that sometimes during the school day I had to leave the classroom for a few minutes to do things like answer an important phone call, go to the restroom or answer the front door. Because of the many hats that I wore in the school the kids in my class learned to become independent, and to help one another, as there was only one of me. However, they were also normal kids who misbehaved from time to time, so in that way it was a regular classroom.

One day, I had to leave the classroom for a few minutes to use the restroom on the second floor of the farmhouse, where my office was. I was only gone for about 5 minutes when I heard a great disruption downstairs. I heard loud voices, furniture moving, and in general a lot of noise! My first thoughts were, “Why the @#$@#$# can’t I leave the classroom for 5 minutes to use the bathroom and they can’t keep it together!” Ever had one of those moments?

I was furious! I stomped down the stairs, with full intention of giving the third degree to whoever was causing this commotion. I still can’t tell you what it was that caused me to pause and take a deep breath before I entered the room where the noise was coming from. But I did. Then, as I entered the room what I saw amazed me, humbled me and made my eyes well up with tears. What had happened was that when I washed my hands in the sink one of the old pipes in the floor had broken, and water was pouring down through the ceiling into one of the rooms in the first floor classroom. The kids had reacted quickly, and had moved tables and shelves out of the way of the incoming water, and had also emptied trash cans to catch the water. I couldn’t have done a more effective job myself. They saved about $500 worth of educational materials, as well as the rug beneath the leak.

Had I reacted to my emotional state as I stomped down the stairs I would be recalling that moment 10 years later as one of my biggest regrets as a teacher. Now, with greater understanding of myself and how the brain works, I understand what happened that day with the pause and breath, although it was unintentional in the moment.

Here’s a great video by Daniel Segal that describes how the brain works in a moment of frustration:

When we “flip our lid” our pre-frontal cortex shuts down or is no longer the guiding force of our actions. We are then operating from the mid-brain which governs our memories, fears, and “fight or flight” response. When the pre-frontal cortex is not engaged and we react, we make our biggest mistakes, relationally: yelling, blaming, hitting, scaring, threatening, saying things we wish we could take back, etc.   However, when we take the time, intentionally, to reengage the pre-frontal cortex, relational mistakes diminish, and real problem solving begins.

Some of the documented functions of the pre-frontal cortex are:

  • Regulation of body through autonomic nervous system
  • Emotional regulation
  • Regulation of interpersonal relationships
  • Response flexibility
  • Intuition
  • “Mindsight”
  • Self Awareness – autonoesis
  • Letting go of fears (only in lab animals so far)
  • Morality

What happened in my experience above, with the broken pipe, was that I paused and took a deep breath, literally giving myself a momentary time-out to reconnect or reengage my pre-frontal cortex. This then allowed me to regulate my emotions, take in the information that I saw and respond flexibly and with understanding. This was not an intentional response, but one which showed me the power of the brain and my potential reactions.

It would be nice to say, “Just keep your energy in the front of your brain and everything will be OK.” However, while there are ways to prevent a “flipped lid” we are human, and especially when we are under stress we “flip our lids” from time to time. Often, this is when an adult might yell or demand that a child “take a time out!” But, who is it that needs the time out?

One of the tools that we have taught our children is that when any of us are angry that we can take a “time out” and cool down. In order for this to really work, however, we have to model the behavior for them. Here are some suggestions for teaching and modeling taking a positive time-out, and helping to build and develop our EQ!

  • Discuss “Flipping Your Lid” – Explain to your children what happens in the brain when we “flip our lid”. Also explain how giving the brain time to cool down allows the pre-frontal cortex to re-engage so that our rational brains can begin to work.
  • Choose a spot – Choose a spot in the house that is your “safe space”. Let your children know that sometimes that you might need to take time to cool down, and that if you go to your spot, that you need them to allow you the time to cool down, and that you promise that you will come back and work things out with them when you are ready.
  • Create a sign – In our family we use the “t” sign formed by holding our hands perpendicular to each other. The sign indicates that I need some time, I love you, and because I love you and care about our relationship I need to take a time-out to cool down so that I can work out our problem with dignity and respect for you and our relationship.
  • Use it!Enough said.
  • Make amends when you don’t use it – Everyone makes mistakes. If we are able, as adults, to make mistakes and take responsibility for them our children will learn from us that it’s OK to make mistakes, and it’s safe to take responsibility and make amends. Making amends also offers your children the opportunity to make the decision to forgive! What an incredible life skill to learn when you are young. See Fred Luskin’s recent article on forgiveness:

Next month I will discuss how to help children use this tool directly, for themselves, and how to encourage them to develop their own EQ.

letting go

Letting Go

letting-go-real-lifeIf you’re anything like me, you have some plans for your children, whether they are conscious or unconscious.  Most parents do.  Those plans might be very general and admirable: going to college, getting married, having children, maintaining the values of your family, and owning a home.  The might also be more specific, and more about you: attending a specific college, playing a specific sport, entering a predetermined profession, or achieving goals that you either achieved or didn’t achieve yourself.

I have four children, and my oldest is now 12.  In the last 12 years, my own agenda for my children is continually being revealed to me.  Despite being an educator in a philosophy of education that espouses independence, individuality and allowing children to become who they are vs. who adults want them to be, I still find that I have conscious and unconscious agendas that affect my interactions with my children.  And of course, the problem with this is that when I am seeking to achieve my goals for my children I miss what they already bring to the table; their natural talents, gifts and interests. 

I use the local barber to get haircuts for myself and my three sons.  Bruce charges $7.00 for an adult haircut and $6.00 for a child’s haircut.  Not only do I love his prices, but also the selection of magazines, old-school hair tonics, and the light banter that flows between Bruce and Mike (Bruce’s newphew, who also works in the shop) and the waiting customers.  As a boy, I loved going to the barber shop.  I can still smell the Clubman hair tonic, talcum powder, and hot shaving cream they used on the back of my neck.  I always assumed that if I had boys that they would be “real men” and get their hair cut short, and in a barber shop just like the one that I got my hair cut in as a child.  I don’t think I thought much about this agenda, as it was just a natural outgrowth  of my own fond memories.  It was just an innocent assumption, based on my own experiences.  However, as my boys have gotten older, they have had some different ideas.

Two years ago, my oldest son decided that he wanted to let his hair grow out, and get it styled in the beauty shop where his mother went.  He wouldn’t admit it (and still won’t), but he wanted a Justin Beiber haircut.  He said it was similar, but different than Justin’s.  It was a Justin Beiber haircut.  Can you see where this is going?  It worked out about like you imagined.  A power struggle, followed by my wife’s betrayal of me through a visit to the beauty shop for a Justin Beiber haircut.  My dreams of sitting in the barber shop with my son, exchanging witty banter with Bruce, and watching him get the back of his neck shaved with hot shaving cream and an  straight razor were crushed.  In the future I would be sitting in the barber shop alone while my wife waited for him in the beauty parlor for a $25 trim and a handful of mousse.

This is an amusing story now, but at the time it was an awakening to a powerful lesson.  Something as inocuous as fond memory of getting my haircut turned into a power struggle with my son as I sought to fufill an uncocious agenda.  Without realizing it, at the time, I had projected my agenda for reliving my fond memories onto my son, and then insisted that he enjoy the same thing that I did.  Instead of seeing him as his own person, separate from me, I saw him as a extension of me, and couldn’t understand why on earth he would want something different.  The problem with this kind of thinking, is that if I act upon it, I actually create distance between my children and me, when all along I simply want to make a connection with them.  They will likely either become rebellious or passively complicit with my agenda.  Neither of those two options are things that I want for my children.

Now, what is also important to explore is the difference between allowing children to explore their individuality, and helping them develop the values that we feel are important.  Let’s discuss that simply by using the real life example of my son and his Justin Beiber haricut.  On the practical end of things, after I was able to abandon my barber shop dream, my wife and I decided that, with four children, allowing everyone to geta $25 haircut every other month was more than my wife were willing to spend. The trip to the beauty salon was a nice treat (and, ironically, a nice bonding time for my wife and son), but not something that we wanted to sustain long-term.  We sat down with my son, prior to his next haircut, and talked with him about the price difference between the barber shop and the beauty salon.  We explained to him, that he could wear his hair the way he liked, within reason, and that we would be willing to pay for Bruce to cut it.  If he chose to go to the beauty salon, then he could find a place that will cut his hair less expensively, and/or do some work around the house to pay for the difference.  In this way, I was able to follow his lead, and get to know him a little better, but still maintain healthy limits for our family, and hopefully teach him a life lesson around money.

As I learn to identify my agendas and plans for my children, and learn to let go, not only do I get to know my each of them better, but the connection between us grows.  I have been absolutely astounded by how different each one of them are from my wife and I and from each other. Each of them has different talents, learns differently, has different tastes, and responds to circumstances differently.  They are uniquely brilliant, creative and hungry to be known for who they are; and, conversely, have little interest in who I want them to be.  As it should be.

Learning to let go:

1.  Understanding that our children do not share the same priorities that we do, and that’s OK.  As an adult I am focused on getting things done, and where I’m going next (the future).  Children live in the now. They are less interested in getting things done, than in learning how to do things and finding out what they enjoy.

2.  The importance of taking time to find out what they are interested in, even if it’s quite different than what we parents are interested in.  However, this is how we continue to find out about who our children are, and also learn new and interesting things!

3.  Allowing for choice, within limits.  Wherever possible, especially through family meetings, we try to include our children in decision making.  There are always constraints and limits, it’s as important that children understand this and learn to work within limits as it is to work to go beyond limits.  Learning to make healthy choices is dependent upon being allowed to make the choices in the first place, and also being allowed to make mistakes.  Sometimes we learn what we like and what our talents are by trying things that we don’t like and finding activities that we’re not talented in.

4.  Less talking, more asking.  One of the most difficult efforts as a parent has been to learn to ask good questions and listen without judgement.  Good old fashioned Socratic questioning is a powerful way to listen and explore without judgement:  What happened?  What caused that to happen?  How do you feel about it?  What do you think?  How do you see that situation?  What do you think you would have done differently?  What do you think you learned from this experience? When children know that we are seeking to understand vs. to be understand, it is amazing how much they open up.

5.  Celebrate their uniqueness and differences.  “Wow, I could have never done that.  You really have a talent for ________.”



This morning I was speaking to my wife on the phone about our plans for the evening.  It is a Friday, and every Friday the kids and I go skiing with the school ski club at a nearby mountain.  It has been very cold in Maine this week, and during my conversation with Sondra I mentioned that my son did not have long johns for skiing.  Here is a rough estimate of our conversation:

Sondra: “I’ll bring his long johns in this morning.”

Chip: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.  It is not bad for him to experience the cold, and learn that he needs to prepare.  He’ll never learn if we keep rescuing him.”

Sondra: “We help each other.”

Chip: “When is he going to learn for himself?”

Sondra: “You left your briefcase here, too.”

Chip: “That’s different, would you mind brining that in for me?”

Does this conversations sound familiar?  Who is correct?  Well, since I’m writing this article, let’s assume that it’s me J  Honestly, I believe that there is truth in both sides of this discussion.  The question really is, where and when do we help?  Where does helping become enabling and interfere with a child’s growth and development?  Where does not helping become irresponsible or neglectful?  So, let’s peel the onion back a little and take a look at this scenario.

Natural Consequences

To begin let’s take a look at natural consequences.  What are they?  A natural consequence is a natural outcome of an action taken by the child, and is allowed to happen because the adult does not interfere.  So, if a child leaves his coat inside when he goes out on a cold day, if the adult does not interfere the child will get cold.  The idea here is that allowing a natural consequence gives the child the opportunity to make the connection for himself by learning through his own experience.  If the adult interferes there is a lost opportunity for the child to draw their own conclusion and become self-sufficient.  The adult who never allows their child to experience the consequences of their decisions might very well find themselves still nagging the child to put on their coat years later!

On the other hand, there is a line that needs to be drawn here, between allowing a child to experience a natural consequence and being neglectful.  We can test this idea be taking it to an extreme.  It would obviously be a situation of serious neglect if an adult let a young child play in the street and allowed the child to experience the natural consequences of that decision.  The consequences are far beyond the child’s ability to experience safely and learn from.  This is neglect.

What is Enabling

Enabling behavior is that which shields a child from the outcomes or consequences of their own actions in an effort reduce the negative experiences for the child.  This behavior by the adult is almost always rooted in love and concern.  No one wants to see their child experience pain, miss opportunities, or encounter disappointment.

Despite the love and concern by the parent, however, the result of enabling is most often dependence or rebellion by the child.  Let’s use the example of the young child who wants to go outside without his coat.  What might it look like if the parent stepped in every time the child wanted to go outside in cold weather and made sure that the child had his coat on?  At first, when the child is younger (age 3-4), it might certainly look like a caring parent, right?  However, let’s fast forward this situation a few years, and now assume that the child is 8 or 9 years old.  Can you see that child running outside without his coat when his parent isn’t looking and choosing to be cold at his parent?  Conversely, if the enabling behavior by the parent had manifested in dependence by the child, might that child choose to stay inside rather than risk experiencing getting cold, or need to check with an adult before he made a decision to go out?

I believe that it is also helpful to point out here that occasionally helping a child do something that they can do for themselves does not mean that we are harming our children.  Helping a child in this way, from time to time, is like eating candy.  A nice piece of candy once in a while is a treat!  However, if we try to live on candy we’ll get sick.

Where to Help

The question that we’re really trying to answer here is: where do I help?  Here are some simple questions to consider when deciding whether to help for your child or to allow your child to experience natural consequences:

Does my child have the ability to absorb the consequences of this natural consequence safely?

Does my child have the information that they need to make this decision?  Have I taken time to teach or train them?

What is my child learning, long-term, from this natural consequence?

What does the big picture look like?  Do I tend to over help, or do I tend to under help?

Who was Right?

In my conversation with my wife, I believe that we both had a good point.  Let’s test this situation with the questions above:

Does my son have the ability to absorb the consequences of this natural consequence safely?  Yes, he is 12, and knows to come inside when he is cold.  He also has greater resilience at 12 than I do at 47!

Did my son have the information that he needed to make this decision?  Yes, he did. He has been skiing since he was 5, and knows about cold weather protection.  Have I taken the time to train him?    Yes, since he started skiing he has had his own backpack with all his gear, and he has learned how to inventory his gear.

What is my child learning, long term, from this natural consequence?  I believe that if he got cold he’d come in frequently, and might miss some skiing.  I would hope that he would learn.

What  does the big picture look like?  Do we over help or under help?  This is where the conversation might sound familiar.  My weakness is to under help, and my wife’s is to over help.  In general, our children are given the opportunity to experience There is an overall sense of consistency and clear expectations. 

So, how did this story end?  My wife dropped off the long johns and my briefcase.  Did we make the right decision?  You be the judge!

negotiating conflict


“Mastering the Art of Quitting,” by Alan Bernstein, identifies the emotional and behavior skills needed to navigate a difficult transition. The article also identifies some dysfunctional styles of quitting that are ineffective for the individual quitting as well as for those affected by the decision of an individual to quit. What immediately comes to mind, as one who works with children, is the emotional intelligence needed to simultaneously be mindful of the needs of others while seeking to attain one’s own goals, and the importance of teaching children how to navigate and negotiate conflict.

Learning to negotiate conflict is a lifelong journey. It begins in childhood, especially as the children near age 5 and peer relations take on greater importance. Children in their early elementary years are not only learning how to read, understand math concepts and communicate through writing, they are also in a sensitive developmental period for developing lifelong social skills. You may remember arguing with your peers at school or your siblings about what is fair and not fair, or about who gets to play who. This was not just a difficult stage in life, but a natural developmental phase where social and communications skills are being developed and children begin to learn how to navigate conflicting needs and goals.

Without tutelage and support in navigating and negotiating conflict young people will find themselves in social situations where the focus is on social survival rather than on learning important life lessons. This is where victims and bullies are born, and dysfunctional coping skills begin to crop up, like withdrawal, manipulation, gossip, creation of unnecessary conflict, etc.

Conversely, if adults intervene too much, and seek to fix and rescue children from the challenges of conflict, rather than teach and support, children miss important opportunities to learn from the messiness of interpersonal difficulties. Over protecting, while coming from the best of intentions, postpones the lessons until the children are older, and at this point the consequences of making mistakes are much higher. This again, leads to the development of dysfunctional coping skills and can be the cause of much consternation and confusion.

How then can we help children learn to manage conflict and negotiate difficult interpersonal situations, like that of quitting a job or leaving a relationship? The answer, actually, isn’t so complicated. It begins with embracing the fact that human relationships are messy affairs, and that children are capable of learning how to negotiate conflict and competing needs as early as age 4 or 5. (If your children are older, don’t worry, it’s never too late to start.) Then, it’s just a matter of teaching children some of the practical skills that make resolving conflict successful. Once these skills are leaned, children then begin to develop the capacity to see another’s point of view, advocate for their own needs, disagree with another without criticism or judgment, develop their own point of view, and set clear and appropriate boundaries.

Here is a simple model that you can teach your children and use with them:

  1. Teach your child to take time to cool off. Encourage them to find their own space to calm down before deciding to resolve conflict with you or with a sibling or friend. Adults can model this as well. If you are angry or upset, let your child know that you need to take some time to calm down before you resolve the problem so that you can do it effectively and respectfully.
  2. Let it go or talk it out? After cooling down, check in with your child, ask them if the issue is something they want to resolve through talking or if it’s something they would like to let go. If they truly would like to let it go, then they can move on (this is an important life skill too!).
  3. Resolve the conflict (ages 6 and older):
    • Child shares how he or she feels and listens to how the other person feels.
    • Each person involved takes responsibility for what they did to contribute to the problem, and what they are willing to do differently
    • Brainstorm ideas or solutions to fix the problem or prevent it from happening again
    • Choose a mutually acceptable solution

Resolve the conflict (ages 4 and 5)

  1. Child shares what they didn’t like, and what they want instead. “I didn’t like it when you took my car. I wish you would give it back.”
  2. Other child or adult responds. “I can do that.”
  3. Other child or adult shares what they didn’t like (if necessary) and what they want instead.
  4. Child responds (if necessary).

While this model is very simple, the results of teaching children to negotiate conflict can be profound. Children begin to learn that others have needs and wants, which are important. They also learn to identify their own needs in situations, how to be assertive and respectful, and to communicate effectively. As well, when negotiating conflict respectfully, children learn to cope with uncomfortable situations in a direct and open manner, where appropriate boundaries can be set, and everyone’s needs are considered. How might a child who has been raised with these skills navigate leaving a job, making a difficult transition or ending a romantic relationship where the stakes are far greater than losing a turn on a swing?