parenting 1

This is the topic that resides in the minds of every effective teacher or parent. How do we appropriately influence our kids? How do we transform our kids, our classes, and our homes into places of consistent peace? How do we give up our ambition for control and allow them to endure some hardship so they can grow up and “own” their life? How do we shift to, “Less of us and more of them?”

Let me remind you that most positive changes don’t happen overnight. It’s best to start slow and small. Baby steps, as they say. For instance, if your kids display a sense of entitlement, low attention spans, and little patience, the answer is not to suddenly become harsh and demand they grow up. We may well need to stop coddling or spoiling our kids and introduce them to the real world, but to go from tender to tough quickly won’t work. The shock would push them away. It would be like exiting a dark cinema after a movie and walking outside into the daylight: we quickly shut our eyes and want to go back inside, as the light’s too harsh. We must somehow ease them into maturity through an intentional path. Slow and small. Over the years, I have noticed the affect of adults who lead too softly or too harshly. The outcomes look something like this:

1. If we got whatever we wanted and felt loved, we became spoiled.

It seems some adults today have embraced a new score card for their parental role. When I was a kid, parents took pride in providing their children with whatever they needed. Today, it seems many parents take pride in giving their kids whatever they want. It’s almost as if it’s our job to do that if we’re going to consider ourselves good parents. This is a sad and unhealthy shift. Part of the reason kids possess a sense of entitlement is that adults have communicated kids “deserve” whatever they want — the new iPad, the new smart phone, the new App on that phone, the newest name brand clothes, you name it. When we love our kids but express it this way, we set them on a path to act spoiled. They often become entitled adults as a result. They are brats that others don’t enjoy being around.

2. If we got whatever we wanted but did not feel loved, we became superficial.

There’s another scenario I see in homes. It’s the family whose kids enjoy all the new “stuff” available in stores but still question whether they are really loved. It’s often found in two-income homes, where both mom and dad work, are busy all the time, and come home tired. As a result, they compensate for their lack of time and energy by simply buying the latest clothes and technology for their kids. This is a classic “Baby Boomer” scene, where mom and dad simply throw money at the problem. It’s tempting, especially if you have the money. Unfortunately, while the children enjoy the latest gadgets, they often wonder if mom or dad wants to spend time with them or even loves them. They see time as more valuable than money, as you can always get more money, but you can never get more time. Because life has become about owning “things”, they want to win at that game and often become superficial with their relationships. They don’t know how to go deep and stick to the surface, whether it’s Facebook or face-to-face conversations

3. If we did not get whatever we wanted but still felt loved, we became secure.

It may seem ironic, but the healthiest scenario for kids is when parents both find authentic ways to communicate they love their children and deny them every little thing they want. Over time, this wonderful scenario communicates to the child that mom and dad love them so much, they have set parameters to guide their child’s development. Security is the result of consistent leadership and boundaries in the home. Instead of throwing money and produces at them, parents invest time, energy and wisdom in conversation. Memorable experiences replace superficial entertainment. Saying “no” actually convinces those children of love instead of the opposite. More often than not, those kids mature into healthy adults who can set boundaries for themselves. Life is about more than things and pleasure and stimulation. It’s about love and trust.

The Balance We Must Strike

The truth is: Leading kids is a balancing act. In fact, all good leadership is a balancing act. It is providing two sides of a coin: both the tough and tender side of it all. We must be both strong and sensitive. I love the Habitude® that summarizes our role. Young people need their leaders to be Velvet-Covered Bricks: Velvet on the outside — responsive, accepting and supportive — and Brick on the inside —leading by principles, boundaries and holding them to standards. We must be both responsive and demanding. It’s the best way to prepare kids to become healthy adults. This will likely require us to start slow and small (no huge, overnight change), but if we are consistent, I believe we can lead this positive change.

In case you didn’t know, my latest book, Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, was just released. (This blog was a short excerpt from the book.) In it, I outline a dozen common mistakes that sabotage our kids’ journey into adulthood, including:

  • We won’t let them fail.
  • We project our lives on them.
  • We remove the consequences.
  • We praise the wrong things…and others.

For a limited time, we’re offering the book for a discounted price. Grab one for you or a friend in need! To order a copy, just CLICK HERE.


Recently, one of our readers, Kara Bohannon, wrote in and mentioned that the blog post that day reminded her of her favorite quote and why she became a teacher:

“Dear Teacher,

I am the survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness:

Gas chambers built by learned engineers.

Children poisoned by educated physicians.

Infants killed by trained nurses.

Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

photo credit: dalecruse via photopin cc

photo credit: dalecruse via photopin cc

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they were to make our children more humane.”

- A principal to his teachers on the first day of school, “Teacher and Child”

That’s big picture perspective. Thanks Kara.


Looking to develop leadership and character in students? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Several years ago, I met with a university student, pondering how to provide some difficult feedback on a project he’d just finished. We’ll call him Zach. Zach was a smart young man, but, like so many from Generation iY (the youngest Millennials), he was fragile when it came to taking constructive criticism. Zach is among the millions of kids who got awards just for playing sports, special marks just for completing a school project, praise for merely meeting minimum standards, and money just for being a part of his family. All of this has hindered him from being able to handle less than rave reviews from supervisors.

My meeting was no different.

As I ventured into the conversation, I began with positive remarks on his progress. I affirmed everything I could. As soon as I got honest about his unsatisfactory (even unacceptable) work, however, his entire demeanor changed. He bristled and began to defend his performance. Then, he actually turned on me. I became the enemy and he was the victim. He lashed out at me, and told me everyone else was on “his side” and believed in him. He actually reviewed the litany of awards he’d won in his past as if to convince himself he was special. (Interpretation: I was a lone critic, aggressor, and most certainly mistaken). In the end, I don’t think he heard me. He was emotionally disabled from consuming helpful, corrective feedback.

The Secret That Enabled Me to Improve

photo credit: kaneda99 via photopin cc

photo credit: kaneda99 via photopin cc

Every coach or teacher knows there’s no moment more important than the one when feedback is delivered. Do it well, and the learner makes progress. Do it poorly, and the opposite happens. We assume the secret to effective feedback is the quality of the information we share: Do this, or don’t do that, and you’ll be better. But this may not be the case.

Daniel Coyle is a member of a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale and Columbia who set out to explore this issue, and what they uncovered is that helpful feedback had far more to do with “how” than “what.” They asked middle school teachers to give a writing assignment to their students, and afterward, give the students various types of feedback. To their surprise, the researchers discovered there was one particular type of remark that improved student effort so much, they called it “magical.” Students who received this feedback chose to revise their paper far more often than students who did not—a 40 percent increase among white students and a 320 percent boost for black students. In the end, it improved their performances significantly.

What was that magical remark? Just one simple phrase:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.”

That’s it. Nineteen simple words that carry weight because they communicate the exact opposite of what students hear when we critique them any other way. According to Dan Coyle, “they are a signal that creates something powerful: a sense of belonging and connection.”

When we examine them closely, the phrase contains several distinct signals:

  1. You are part of this group or team.
  2. This team is special; we have high standards here.
  3. I believe you can reach those standards.

The secret is to understand that this feedback isn’t just feedback. It’s a vital cue about the relationship. The reason it works so well is about how our brains are wired. It’s normal to become guarded when attacked. Our effort is very personal, and we naturally want to defend it. When we receive authentic, clear signals of trust, belonging and expectation, however, the floodgates open. Feedback offered this way pulls the student toward you rather than repelling them. It’s the difference between saying: “What’s wrong with you?” and “You’re better than this.”

My Suggestions for You

Today’s adults have raised a fragile generation. Constant praise and rewards that are not connected to reality have actually hindered their maturation. This kind of research enables coaches or teachers to move the needle and enable them to grow. Kids are capable of so much more than they’re currently showing us—because we set the bar low. Consider these “takeaways” as action steps of this research:

  • Build a connection first. Insure your students know you believe in them.
  • Spotlight the team and it’s special persona and characteristics.
  • Communicate expectations up front and remind students of them.
  • Relay to each individual that they belong on this team; they’re worthy.
  • Don’t soft pedal high standards. Don’t pretend it’s easy.
  • Embrace the challenge with your students. Show them you’re up for the challenge of meeting those standards too.

If we treat kids as fragile, they will most assuredly become fragile adults. But if we communicate they’re worthy of high standards, they will rise to the occasion.


Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Authentic Maturity

Yesterday, I blogged about schools in Finland and how they seem to be able to engage their students so much better than we do in the U.S. The students appear to enjoy the learning process, often do work with little or no adult supervision, and score higher in comparable tests in other nations. Teachers say the students are:

  • Engaged
  • Happy
  • Curious
  • Genuinely learning

Regardless of whether you’re an educator, coach, youth director or youth pastor, you gotta love this. So what’s the big secret?

Better, more frequent recess time.

Schools in Finland see it as key to the educational process, not a distraction from the process. They take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction time. During a typical break, students head outside to play around, socialize with friends or remain inside for time to connect and decompress. During that time, teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.

I know. It seems soft. What a bunch of lazy slackers, right?

Hmmm. Nope. They actually do better than we do academically. In the U.S. we often pride ourselves in several hours of rigorous classroom time, believing kids learn better with longer stretches of instructional time. If you look at the numbers, however, you see our system isn’t as effective. Our “system” has pushed teachers to spend more hours, not less, with the students, thinking more hours will help us catch up and produce better kids. But does it?

I recall my days in class — wishing for a break after 45 minutes, and I was a good student. After an hour, feet are dragging, attention spans have slipped, and brains need a short break. Science even tells us this…but science class doesn’t practice it. In fact, come to think of it, longer stretches only work on paper. They don’t produce the results we’re after — even if it appears “soft” or undisciplined.

The Facts About This Groundbreaking Discovery

Frequent breaks keep students fresh throughout the day. Finnish schools have been practicing this since the 1960s. These breaks result in:

  • Focused students – They know their needs will be met soon.
  • Fresher students – They’ve just had a break and are ready to dig back in.
  • Fulfilled students – They’re energized by social time and curious to learn.

One teacher who decided to do class the Finnish way said, “Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my students would — without fail — enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.

The Research Behind This Groundbreaking Discovery

Perhaps you’ve heard of the work of Anthony Pellegrini, author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development and emeritus professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, who has praised this approach for over 10 years. In East Asia, where most primary schools give their students a 10-minute break after 40 minutes or so of classroom instruction, Pellegrini observed this phenomenon. After shorter recesses, students appeared to be more attentive in the classroom.

Not satisfied with anecdotal evidence alone, Pellegrini and his colleagues ran a series of experiments at a public elementary school to explore the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break. They also found that the children were less attentive when the timing of the break was delayed — or in other words, when the lesson dragged on.

In Finland, primary school teachers seem to know this intuitively. They send kids outside — rain or shine — for their frequent recesses. And the children get to decide how they spend their break times. I realize that unleashing fifth graders on the playground every hour would be a huge shift for most schools. According to Pellegrini, breaks don’t have to be outdoors to be helpful. In one of his experiments at the public elementary school, students had their recess times inside the school, and the results matched those of other experiments performed outside.

Give Me a Break!

What’s most important is not where kids take breaks but how much freedom we give them from their structured work. When break times are teacher-directed, Pellegrini found, the recess loses its value. It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge, they also learn to cooperate, communicate and compromise — all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.

So, how could you adjust your student programs to get more engaged students?


Looking to develop leaders this school year? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Over the last four years, I’ve written several articles on the Finnish education system. Finland students consistently score high when compared to other industrialized nations in most subjects. All of this, as American schools continue to lag behind, globally. I’ll be the first to admit: There’s no simple solution.

But what is Finland doing differently? What is their secret?

photo credit: Ereine via photopin cc

photo credit: Ereine via photopin cc

Sophia Faridi recently wrote about being part of a small group of U.S. educators who had the opportunity to attend the Oppi Festival, held in Helsinki, Finland, to learn more about the Finnish educational system. During the trip, her group visited several innovative schools. She acknowledges that while they never uncovered one mysterious secret to their success, she did make a surprising discovery:

Happy teachers and happy students.

The faculty and students she observed were genuinely happy. They seemed to be enjoying their learning experiences, and teachers appeared satisfied and valued. It made Sophia wonder: What makes school in Finland such an enjoyable experience for everyone? Here are ten of her discoveries:

1. A heavy emphasis on play. In Finland, people believe that children learn through play, imagination and self-discovery, so teachers not only allow but encourage play. Development of the whole person is highly valued, especially in the early years. Even at the high school level, you can see students playing foosball or videogames in the student center.

2. No high-stakes standardized testing. Finnish schools believe more test preparation means less time for free thinking and inquiry. Accountability is measured at the classroom level by the experts — teachers.National standards are valued, and Finland uses a national set of standards similar to the Common Core State Standards. Yet, teachers have complete autonomy over curriculum and how the standards are implemented.

3. Trust. This was perhaps the greatest difference I observed. The Finnish government trusts their municipalities; they in turn trust school administrators, administrators trust teachers, teachers trust students, and in return, parents and families trust teachers. There is no formal teacher-evaluation system. Teachers, similar to doctors in the U.S., are trusted professionals.

4. Schools don’t compete with one another. There are no school evaluations since it is believed that all schools should be good. Non-competitive school structures result in no need for school-choice programs.

5. Out-of-this-world teacher prep programs. One reason why teachers are so trusted in Finland is that becoming a teacher is an extremely rigorous and prestigious process. Only the best of the best are accepted into education school. In addition to high test scores, candidates must pass an interview investigating their integrity, passion and pedagogy. Universities are committed to finding candidates that are the right fit for the teaching profession. Their programs are research-based, and teachers finish with master’s degrees, including a published thesis.

6. Personal time is highly valued. Every 45 minutes, students have the legal right to 15 minutes of free time. Finns believe that students’ capacity for engagement and learning is most successful when they have a chance to unwind and refocus. In turn, students work productively during class time, understanding that their needs to play, talk or even read quietly will be met shortly. Going outside frequently also encourages greater physical fitness. Finnish schools emphasize play, and students are encouraged to play during the school day all the way through high school.

7. Less is more. Students do not start school until the age of seven. School days are also shorter. Most elementary students only attend school for four to five hours per day. High school students, similar to college students, only attend the classes that are required of them. So while one student might have an 8 a.m. Swedish class, another might not start school until 10 a.m.Grades are not given until 4th grade. Evaluation of early learners focuses on meta-cognition and learning how to learn.

8. Emphasis on quality of life. The Finnish system recognizes that happy teachers are good teachers, and overworked teachers will not be at the top of their game. Teachers prep from home and only teach to students about 20 hours per week.

9. Semi-tracked learning. After age 16, students choose gymnasium (academic-based) or vocational school. However, both paths are highly respected in Finnish society. The vocational school we visited was an amazing state-of-the-art facility with hands-on learning infrastructures that surpass most American universities. Students graduating from either type of high school may attend university.

10. Ethics is taught in the primary grades. While many students learn their ethics curriculum through religion class, even nondenominational or nonreligious students are required to take ethics courses.

“Most of all, collaborative environments are strongly emphasized. The infrastructure of schools is designed to promote collaboration. Classrooms branch off from a shared learning area where students from various classes and grade levels work together, and teachers can interact in a common space. High school students have all sorts of cozy nooks and crannies to work together comfortably on campus, and students move freely around the building with minimal supervision. Perhaps what struck me most about schools in Finland was the relevant, genuine learning taking place right before my eyes. I had the chance to sit down with a group of high school seniors working on a project examining U.N. extradition trials. Without any teacher present, students were engaged simply because the subject was important to them. Their key is they’ve built a happy, conducive culture in their schools for everyone.”

“As one Finnish principal explained, ‘When a student struggles, the question is not what’s wrong with the student or what’s wrong with the teacher. The question is, what’s wrong with the system?’”

May this post launch a fresh conversation among your staff.


Looking to develop leaders on your campus this year? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes