~Tom McManimon

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Personal Branding”? Do you think it is revealed in your dress style, your job position, the car you drive or even the company you keep? What I love most about Personal Branding is just that — it is personal. No two personal brands are alike. There are many people with similarities in style and personality but there are distinct differences between one person to the next.

SrSeus-QuoteThe person that is “You” is shaped by countless influences throughout your life, past and present, such as: parents, siblings, best friends, arch enemies, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, first crush, classmates, children, bosses. Influential moments mold you, like first steps, first day in school, first kiss and first dates, graduations, touchdowns, college, weddings, births, deaths and all the tragedies and triumphs in between.

Some people are very in-touch with these influences and their impact on success and happiness. Think of them as an ever-increasing foundation from which you can draw confidence and support for your strong sense of self. Taking into account your personal influences in life helps you appreciate the “unique” you and understand the make-up of your brand.

With years of experiences to draw on, this idea of your “personal brand” may prove meaningful to you, but what does this have to do with young children? Even at a tender age, our children are “assembling,” the elements that influence their self-esteem and ultimately define their unique persona.

Without positive influences children may become teens without knowing who they are, what makes them interesting, unique or even important. They lack focus. They don’t know how to dream or begin to embrace the great possibilities in front of them. It seems, a growing number of children are glued to electronic devices— communicating through keyboard conversations on their cell phones and through social media. Unfortunately, many kids get their sense of self from television programs rather than through real, person-to-person interactions.

You can change all that; you can guide them and influence them positively. The everyday connections you share with kids (a smile, a wink, a giggle, etc.) are valuable. Your time and attention to them is precious. The freedom you extend to them to explore and express themselves can be revealing.  And, positive feedback is empowering.  ♦


~ Janice F. Booth

OK, Mom and Dad.  It’s time to talk “homework.”

Let’s see: You’ve got to pick up some groceries. That leak has to be fixed in the bathroom sink. The laundry won’t wait another day…  Oh, and did I mention getting Jane to her soccer practice?

Are you feeling a knot in the pit of your stomach about now? Are you instinctively dreaming up excuses for why at least one of those tasks has to wait?

Well, you’re experiencing the feelings many of our children get every afternoon when they arrive home, hopping off the school bus or waving good-by to the car pool gang.  As they toss down jackets and backpacks, Mom or Dad asks, “So, what’s your homework look like?”

Robbie wants to bolt; Jane is on the verge of tears.

Of course, this reaction is not true for all children.  Perhaps you’re among the lucky families whose son can’t wait to get back to that book he’s reading for next week’s book report.  And maybe your daughter reminds you that she has to go right home from school so she can do her daily measurements for her botany project for next month’s science fair.

But for most of us, homework is a task that must be done, even when we’re tired, feeling ill, or sad. That recognition, that we often must meet responsibilities even when we have good reasons not to, may be one of the important “take aways” from homework. Sometimes homework feels useless, busy work with little or no real significance. You’ll just have to empty the dishwasher again tomorrow.  Michelle will just have to do ten math problems again next week. Brian will have to practice his clarinet for 30 minutes again tomorrow. But life’s like that, and we all have to learn to carry on.

If we can acknowledge these feelings of dread or frustration on the part of our children, we can begin to lighten the burden or at least commiserate with them as we ease them into the homework mode.

Perhaps some of the techniques we use to get through our own homework can be adapted for our children?  Here are three essential devices many of us, grown-ups, use to meet our responsibilities. These same tools may be taught to our children and applied to their tasks.

  1. Make lists:  Help your child make her own homework list so she can feel she “owns” the tasks ahead.  Most teachers provide lists of the upcoming assignments, an overview of homework.   Megan’s likely to more easily remember the assignments if  she’s copied them down in her own words. And Megan may discover that being able to cross out items as we accomplish them is gratifying for us all.  You might even compare lists and share a joke about trading tasks, “I’ll do your five math problems, Megan, if you’ll balance my check book.”
  2. Prioritize: This can be a little tougher for elementary children, but it’s an important way of thinking about the tasks we face.  If you can teach David to think about what needs to be done “first” and why, he might feel more in control of his work.  “What do you think, Davey, should you make that rain meter for your science project now, before it gets dark? It’s supposed to rain tonight. You can read that chapter in your book later.”  Three valuable lessons are being offered here: David sees the logic you’re applying to the process.  He is prioritizing and noting that one thing needs to be done so something else can be accomplished later.  And, you’re subtly reminding him that there is more than one task ahead.
  3. Self-discipline: While your child is learning math and history, how to comprehend what she reads and measure volumes, homework too becomes a learning process, figuring out how to cope with life’s demands. The more we can help our children take charge of their lives in small ways, the better prepared they will be to take charge of the big things in their lives.  If Ryan can choose whether to study at the dining room table with you or at his desk in his room, Ryan feels more in control of his life.  He’s spent the entire day at school being told where to go, where to sit, which book to open and what paper to pass in.  He may enjoy choosing between the camaraderie of working with you, side-by-side. Or, he may have had enough of people today and want to hunker down at his own desk, in his own space, with his iPod playing and his homework list pinned to the cork board over his desk.  Whichever he chooses, you could ask him to check-in with you when he’s got that first assignment done. Maybe there’s a yogurt cup or some carrot sticks waiting.

Whether we’re eight or forty-eight, we have tasks to accomplish and responsibilities to meet.  Our children learn from our examples how to cope and how to function in this complex world.  Making lists, prioritizing and exercising self-control are skills well worth teaching and well worth mastering, no matter what our ages!

OK, now who’s picking up the cleaning and who’s getting the dog to the groomers?


~ by Kathy Szaj

 Author’s note: Although this essay was originally written fourteen years ago, the rise of U.S. school shootings (at least thirty-five since 1999) makes these words still eerily relevant—and their application more urgent than ever. 

“The psychologists, the crisis team researchers, they all come out to these [Congressional] hearings and say it’s not a matter of IF there’s going to be another school shooting . . . it comes down to a question of WHEN there will be another shooting.”

Carolyn McCarthy, U.S. Representative. The New York Times, May 5, 1999

Each time headlines scream of yet another incident of kids maiming or killing other kids, we desperately want to apprehend the causes. We point fingers to violence in television, movies, computer games, and music. We shake our heads and wring our hands over upheavals in family structures and changing societal mores. We shrug our shoulders at the enormity of fixing a problem that has no clear solution. We—parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers, aunts and uncles—ache to do something. But what?

We can reach for books that open communication between kids and us.

For nearly thirty years, I’ve watched true magic happen while adults and children shared children’s books. I’ve seen very young listeners and early readers dive into books that immerse them wholeheartedly within a character’s problematic situation and realistic feelings, books that illustrate a wide arc of ways to express these often difficult feelings, and books that suggest resolutions to help children live, not happily ever after, but with hope-tinged choices of action.

Through books that make readers laugh, grow wide-eyed or sigh, I’ve heard kids and grownups explore rough territory: emotions like sadness, hurt, fear, anger, and grief; relationships with family, peers, and friends; self-esteem themes like body awareness, problem-solving, talents, and gifts; positive values like cooperation, kindness, respect, love; and major situations like illness, death, separation and divorce, physical or mental handicap, as well as smaller, but-no-less important happenings like moving, saying goodbye, or wearing glasses.

In three decades of teaching and caring for kids, I’ve experienced the wonder of books that encourage empathy, offer alternative solutions, and affirm the beauty of life…a touch of healing magic. These are books that not only help to open conversation’s door between kids and adults, but prop open that door when hard times threaten to slam it shut.

Several years ago, while researching children’s “bibliotherapy”—books that help readers gain insight into problems or difficult issues—I discovered that this helping/guiding/healing power of books has been recognized for centuries.  In ancient Thebes, above a library entry, these elegant words were inscribed: “The Healing Place of the Soul.”

That helped me to explain to myself my own growing collection of children’s books—a collection inexplicably begun when I was teaching adolescents. For the last twenty-five years I’ve been enchanted by books that embrace children’s developmental and psychological concerns with utter beauty and profound simplicity. Inevitably, this love carried over into my own work when I began writing for children. Living and working with a child who creatively avoided hearing or saying “goodbye,” with children who delighted in dawdling, and with a child who misdirected her high energy into misbehaviors and tantrums, my “helping” books—and their characters—nearly wrote themselves.

Of course, no amount of books can prevent kids from confrontation with emotional distress. My belief is that sparing them from experiencing painful situations hinders emotional maturity. But, sharing “books that heal with kid appeal” can help children—and the adults who love them—create a fantastic pattern of talking together and listening to each other about everything and anything, weaving a bond that may prove resilient and durable enough to weather adolescence and beyond.

Kids and adults alike crave the assurance that we are not alone in the universe, that we are accepted and understood. No matter what our ages, we want and search for those people and things that make us feel powerful, i.e., having a sense that we can make a difference because of who we are and what we do. When we share books, we’re telling our children that real power is not in aiming guns, but in sitting beside each other with a story bridge between us.

Perhaps our little kids who can freely cross communication’s threshold with significant adults will not become adolescents—or adults—who kill.  ♦

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