All posts in Education, School & Learning

External Motivation (Infographic)

infographic, external motivators When discussing both education and parenting, motivation is a recurring theme.

  • What, at its core, motivates children  to not only learn but to behave with respect and kindness?

  • How do teachers motivate learners while adhering to school rules and standardized testing?

  • How do parents motivate children to do their chores and cooperate in the family?

One way, as we’ve mentioned, is with EXTERNAL MOTIVATORS.

What are External Motivators? (A Refresher)

External Motivators are simply imposed systems (by adults) to steer children toward “desired behaviors” (see examples in the infographic).

These systems may technically and positively steer behavior, but ultimately, they lead to hidden outcomes that “steal” the internal desire to learn and explore the world.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!

Accolades: Thieves of Discovery

Rick Ackerly Quote on AuthorityIf you have a child in school, then you may know first-hand how schools are employing external motivators (both positive and negative) to entice our kids into doing their homework, following playground rules and behaving appropriately in the classroom. You may have seen the latest and greatest star charts, GOOD JOB stickers, goodies, currency (allowing kids to “shop” based on the tokens they receive), parties, consequences, and zero tolerance policies and so forth.

These systems may lead to “good behavior” but they are the thieves of discovery, wonder, trial, error and trust in the child. While rewards and punishments may seem fun, positive, necessary or even logical, adult imposed systems aimed at steering behavior affect both the child’s mind and the inquisitive process or “genius”.

What Goodies and Stickers and Punishments Really Do (and Say)

Motivation by goodies and rewards shifts a child’s focus from satisfying the internal “genius” to following an external, imposed authority and infrastructure.

The child’s internal voice stops saying, hmmm, I’d like to discover OR wow, I notice ____ and is replaced with the externally imposed voice asking what will I get OR how can I make this other person happy (so they like me and give me a pat on the head)?

In short, the child now is thinking: if I do this, I get that.

Likewise, using “punishments” or rigid discipline rules also steals the child’s focus. It replaces the joy of discovering through trial and error with absolute compliance. Instead of having the courage to make mistakes and a desire to gather feedback from choices, our children spend their time worrying about being sent to the time-out chair or losing recess time or not earning a bright smiley sticker.

It also sends a message: hey kid, before you even show me you can handle it, you aren’t to be trusted, so we, the adults- the authority- have put in place all kinds of ways to “get you to behave.” Of course many teachers do not overtly think this way, but if the school operates in such a manner, they are challenged with delivering choice and problem solving against a current of imposed thought.

The Messy Stuff is Where Magic Happens

When an entire learning structure is dependent on a system of do and do nots, children miss all the messy learning in the middle. They are not encouraged to ask, try, challenge or discover a new way because the “right way” is laid out for them.

They don’t practice taking risks or judging for themselves what might happen if….For example, what if a child decides to break a “rule” (we walk in the the classroom) to rush over and help a friend?

Perhaps it was worth it and he makes it safely. Perhaps he falls on his face. Perhaps the friend ignores him when he gets there. Or perhaps he gets a huge hug because he showed up. That’s the kind of learning that happens in the day of a child.

In Rick Ackerly’s article, What do Good Parents and Good Schools have in common? He addresses this issue- the confusion of adult authority in children’s lives and the energy spent “keeping things from happening” vs. “making things happen.” He says,

“The key to the door of our authority prison is this: Don’t underestimate children. Act as if this child has a genius, a teacher-within with whom we can form a partnership” and “seeing children for what they really are: creative, decision-making machines whose central purpose is to self-actualize, to become authorities.”- Rick Ackerly

In life, we all know from our own mistakes and risks, there are situations where hard and fast rules do not mean the same according to context.

Is the RIGHT choice always the one that will get you the sticker? Is a “punishment” necessary if you’ve truly learned through experience? Our children deserve the space to answer these questions for themselves, while they’re young and wildly fascinated to learn what it takes to become a competent, cooperative human being on this planet.

Does your child attend a school heavily dependent on stickers and goodies? Share your stories in the comments.

Interested in education topics? Wondering how to bridge the home-school communication? Sign up for our upcoming workshop with Rick Ackerly.



The Genius in YOUR Child

atuhentic selfEvery child, according to Rick Ackerly, is born with a guiding energy or “genius” that drives the child on a grand quest to the discovery of his or her authentic “self”.

This “genius” or curiosity “spark” is what propels children to naturally enjoy learning how to participate intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically with the world. This “genius”  inspires children to happily discover through trial and error, observation, movement, language and so forth, all the intricacies of being human.

This “genius” guides children down the exciting path of self discovery and cannot be imposed or “engineered” – it must come from within.

Questions to Ask Ourselves as Parents

  • How often do we, as adults, interrupt this natural drive to become a part of the world?

  • How much of our solving, saving  steering, hovering, doing-for interferes with this process? 

  • Are we nurturing this “genius” or limiting its unfolding?

 Think about it. Leave a comment and then join us for a discussion with Rick Ackerly, author of The Genius in Every Child.

More on this topic over the next few weeks!

Amazon Book Review: The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, and Creativity in Children

From Amazon Review of the Book by 5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for Parents and Educators December 6, 2012 By Carla Silver

Don’t let the word : “Don’t let the word “genius” in the title mislead you. Rick Ackerly’s book, The Genius in Children, is not about children with “extraordinary intellectual power” – the definition you might find in the dictionary. He does not suggest that all children are geniuses. Instead, Rick returns to a lesser used definition of genius: “the tutelary spirit of a person, place or institution.” He makes the case that each child has a genius, a spirit, spark, or as Rick call it, “a unique me that is becoming.” By nurturing that genius, we can help children to “maximize their potential academically, socially, physically, and personally.

The Truth About Intimacy

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Location: Doubletree Conference Center
1117 Williston Road, South Burlington, VT
Date: Friday, February 1, 2013
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Cost: $39 per person, $69 per couple



Why are over 70 parents already registered to attend Cindy Pierce’s presentation?

Because they care about the subject and they need information they can rely on. They want solid, accurate information that will help them guide their children towards developing healthy attitudes about sex, intimacy and relationships in general. They want to know how easy it is for their kids to access porn and what they can do to prevent it. And they want to feel closer to their spouse.

They also know they can’t do it alone and that asking a friend is like asking your plumber to look over your tax return. When you want information you can trust, you go to the expert.

Here is just a sample of what Cindy will cover in her presentation (buckle up – many of you may cringe when you learn what’s really going on).

  • The average age a boy looks at porn in the US is 6 1/2. Learn how they are getting access.

  • The average parent waits until their children are in the 5th grade (10 years of age) to talk to their kids about sex. Find out what happens when you wait too long to start the conversation.

  • Many pediatricians encourage parents to talk to their kids when they are young and to continue the conversation throughout the child’s life revisiting the issue every few months to make sure the kids are not misinformed. You’ll learn how to keep this topic on the agenda for easy access and ongoing chats.

  • Many of your children have friends (I’m talking 1st grades here) who cruse the internet. They share information on the bus, the playground and anywhere else that’s semi private. Find out what they are sharing and some of the reasons they are sharing it – it’s not because they are bad kids or come from homes where mom and dad aren’t doing their jobs.

  • Avoiding the subject of sex with your kids opens the door for the culture to do the teaching. Are you sure you want someone else talking to your kids about sex, intimacy, healthy relationships, communication and trust? I didn’t think so.
  • Did you know the porn industry has tapped into the gaming world. Rape has become part of several popular games, which are more accessible than you think. Scary but true.

We can keep our head in the sand, pretend our kids won’t be touched by the porn industry and will get all their information about sex, intimacy and relationships from their parents, but the truth is, that thinking puts all of our kids at risk.

Join me and other parents for an informative, educational and entertaining evening with Cindy Pierce.

Location: Doubletree Conference Center
1117 Williston Road, South Burlington, VT
Date: Friday, February 1, 2013
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Cost: $39 per person, $69 per couple

Register Here.

Go to the Principal’s Office

go to the principal officeThis time of year, parents are always chatting about “how to talk to teachers” and “what to do” about communication between the home, the school and the child.

Having been in the trenches myself with five kids, I understand that moms and dads alike worry about how to make the school year a success for everyone – and that means sometimes focusing on keeping things neat and tidy and ensuring the kids don’t draw too far outside the lines, so to speak. Other times, however, it doesn’t really matter if they stay in the lines or go waaaay off the paper. This is their time to let the colors fly. So…

When parents ask for my advice on this topic, I say:

Here’s what I did…take it or leave it, but it’s not about getting through safe, clean and unruffled.

Are you ready for this?

I told each of the kids that if they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office at least once each year, they weren’t living dangerously enough. I said, go ahead-it’s your life and I trust you’ll figure it out. I gave them the green light to try something that rocked the boat just a little. And then I stepped back. (Yes! I said that.)

Why Would I Do This?

Here is why. I wanted them to take a chance, voice their opinion, stick up for a kid being embarrassed by a teacher, skip a class to help a friend, stay at play practice late in lieu of of completing the science project perfectly. In other words, I wanted them to do something outside the lines and rock the boat just a bit. So my kids weren’t afraid of making mistakes, getting in trouble and they were familiar with the folks in the office and had empathy for the tikes who were sent there on a regular basis.

What Happened?

Big surprise that as we entered the last month of school, not a one (well maybe one) hadn’t seen the inside of the principals office and were feeling a bit panicked about it. Good problem to have, right?

So, What Do YOU Do with This Information?

Whatever you want. You can say, gee…I’m so glad you said this- if Vicki can do it, so can I. Or, if it’s too extreme, you can say well, gee no thanks BUT I’d be willing to tell the teachers a few basic bits to help foster independence, choice and mistakes without encouraging a trip to the principal! *Gasp* …

And the Point?

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you decide, as long as you have a plan that works for your child and the only way you can make a plan is to know who you are as a parent (print the Duct Tape Parent Pledge- hand it to the teacher if it helps!) and what it will take for your child to learn (and by learn, not just “submitting work on time, doing homework and sitting quietly). The truth is, when you set out on school adventures, you don’t really know what it will take for your child to develop a true sense of self so why not let the messes fly (if you keep it too tidy, they’ll miss out on their own problem solving!).

Big Picture Thinking, AKA The 10,000 Foot View

With all the fuss over hover parents and school safety (yes, safety is important but I’m talking excess precaution, like no more cartwheels!? too dangerous?– sheesh) – anyway- with this “panic button” thinking permeating our schools, teachers are up against no discomfort for my kid mentality but if they know where you stand on these issues, and that you are likely to support them (and that in fact, you are encouraging your kids to take a few reasonable risks) you will have created an alliance with the teacher. And, it’s likely that the teacher will begin to see your child with new eyes. Eyes that reflect your goals for your child – independence, curiosity, engagement, social justice, etc.

If you’re clear up front in the first meeting with the teacher, you will all be able to relax a bit more.  It’s a win/win.

8 Thoughts, “Nuggets” or Un-Advice

1. Keep in mind, you are both in this together.

2. Define what you both want for your child at the end of the school year.

3. Pick / encourage things other than academic success as measurement for learning.

4. Talk specifically about some other participation angle like citizenship, or an area your child struggles in like organization. Stay on SOLUTIONS vs. problems.

5. Tell the teacher what your goals are for your child – to raise a thinking, engaged, curious, empathetic, courageous child. Don’t get crazy. Keep it simple.

6. Design a plan for talking with the teacher about the progress and improvement you would want to see during the year and how you will support the child.

7. Get clear about how each of you will deal with the child’s mistakes, forgotten homework etc., so there are no misunderstanding and expectations are clear.

8. Send notes of appreciation to the teacher at least once a month or at the end of a specific “unit”.

Let us know what you think or keep us updated on YOUR teacher-parent communications!

Articles: Back to School


It’s been a few weeks for some, a mere days for others– either way, we’ve all hit “back to school” in full steam fashion. Some of you are veterans, others are rookie parents but together, we’re all just getting familiar with this year’s shuffling, packing,  locating, and out the door scurrying.

Some of us love it, some of us loathe it and for many of us, some days it’s a bit of both! (Especially when Monday mornings roll around). No matter where you are on the back-to-school spectrum, a little thinking, planning and practicing can go a long way in making the mornings smoother, the days happier, and the transitions simpler.

Here’s a dragnet of Parenting On Track (#PonT) posts that will keep your back to school mojo in motion!

Packing Lunches

I know what you guys do at home and the independence that you foster there shows up here in the classroom. The things you guys have them do in the mornings like making their own lunch gives them such self confidence. I’m not sure what you see at home but it’s so strong here. I can clearly see the connection between the independence you give them and the confidence here at school.

-Note from a Real Teacher

Why She Can Pack Her own Darn Lunch

There’s something more delicious than a PBJ or bagel with cream cheese in your child’s lunch—something sweeter than a fresh baked cookie or chocolate milk. It’s CONFIDENCE.Read the post here.

Five Tips to Make Lunch Packing Easier for Your Kiddo

As we said before, packing a lunch is a very useful and “real life” habit that will help your child develop responsibility, time management and confidence. It’s also a nice way to send the message that you trust your child with decisions that affect her life. Here are 5 ways to help you make this process smooth and simple so that you can walk out of the kitchen and trust they can handle it.Read the post, here. [hr]

Schedules, Routines and Staying Happy

Finding the Balance

This list was compiled by my friend, and fellow Parenting On Track parent S.G. in response to a parent who was struggling with how to make the morning and evenings run smoother with her young kids since having recently returned to the workforce. After I read it, I realized that this list will work for ANY parent or EVERY parent who has 1 child or 5 children and is trying to juggle family, work, & life. Of course I HAD to add my own 2 cent worth in red. Enjoy.Read it here.

Routines Happen By Design

Revamping your family’s routines can be a strategic challenge – a chess game of cause and effect. Ultimately, you must observe your kids and then “design” a household environment that will lead to effortless routines. You’re probably thinking, please, that’s gonna be hard. But actually, it’s kind of fun because once you’ve figured it out, it’s almost as if by magic, your kid begins to sail through the day. Read the post here.

Happier Parenting

10 Tips for Happier Parenting can be foundHERE.

Thinking Kids

When my child was in the 2nd grade, and her teacher asked me why I didn’t sign her “homework” notebook, I told her it was because I was raising a “thinking” child. It’s the same reason I didn’t…. READ THE REST HERE.

I Believe in You

Let me tell you something about YOU.

YOU can do anything you want. YOU are in control.

YOU can achieve as much success as you want to.

YOU can and will pick yourself up when life knocks you down.

I BELIEVE IN YOU. Read the post here

Praise vs. Encouragement

Training without a Sticker Chart

As school starts, so do the charts and goodies! “The illusive, yet necessary training of young children remains a lively and interesting conversation by parents everywhere. Certainly, those of us familiar with the Vicki’s Tools for Success program, and the idea that self-esteem is developed by contributing in meaningful ways to the family (and by extension the communities we are a part of) are ahead of the game.”Read the post on Training here.

Watch Out for “Good Job” Overload

Real Families

You Can Make Them Go But…

“Flockmother purchased my home program in April of 2009 and decided to chronicle her journey, for the benefit of others. If you read her first blog post the first day of her DNSN week, you will see that the girls in fact did not go to school. That, my friends, is just where this journey begins. Once again, Flockmother inspires us.” Read the PonT post here or go DIRECTLY to the post.


Podcast: Let’s Chat Middle Schoolers

Today’s blog features a podcast with Michelle Icard. The topic? Middle Schoolers! This interview is just right for back to school thinking…ENJOY!

Click to listen!

Parenting Strategy: Interview with Michelle Icard

About Michelle Icard

In 2004, Michelle Icard launched Athena’s Path, a curriculum that helps girls navigate the tricky middle school social scene. Shortly after, she added Hero’s Pursuit for boys, and in 2011 launched her website for parents of middle schoolers:


Athena’s Path & Hero’s Pursuit have been implemented in 30 schools, in five states, and have impacted over 7,000 students. Over 250 teachers have been trained to implement the programs in schools. Michelle regularly speaks at schools and parenting events around the country.  She has also written curriculum for other national programs for adolescents, including Girlology and Girls Rock the House. Michelle lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, 12 year-old daughter, and 10 year-old son.

Zip it. For the Kids’ Sake

mom-and-dad2Ahoy parents! The tides are changing. Parents, educators, experts and obviously, the kids, have finally come to accept that the entire “over-parenting” approach to raising kids, just isn’t working out. All that structured time? All those heroic homework rescues? All that frenzied energy spent mapping the perfect childhood? Well, it’s all a waste of valuable time and energy. As a mom of five, who didn’t have the luxury to waste time or energy, I was committed to finding an approach to parenting that made more sense for myself and for the kids I was responsible for raising.

Madeline Levine and Faulty Logic

Among experts who are beginning to challenge the over-parenting, over involved approach is expert, Madeline Levine. Levine uses the term faulty logic and states, over-parenting isnt doing what we think it’s doing” and I couldn’t agree more. The question then becomes, so why the heck are so many parents STILL hovering, over protecting, micro-managing, controlling and over stepping their boundaries as parents? And even more curious and relevant than that question is, What the heck can a parent do instead?

Lenore Skenazy on WHY Are Parents Still Hovering

As Lenore Skenazy shares with her readers week after week, fear is being pushed at parents from all sides.

  • Let them play outside? Social services.
  • Let them draw with chalk? Fined.
  • Let them ride their bikes? Jail.

This fear-based thinking which leads to over-protection and micro-managing is easy to adopt (often unintentionally), when parents find they are floating in a current that sweeps them into a sea of worst case scenarios.

The other fear that plays into this hovering approach weighs on parents who are afraid that if they let go, just a little, the family and their kids will fall apart. These parents worry that they’ll look like “bad parents” or they’ll get the hairy eyeball from strangers for the decision to step back a bit and give the kids some breathing room.

In spite of these fears, and many others, parents are re-thinking their approach to parenting and finding ways to show more trust in their kids’ abilities to navigate their lives and rebound from disappointments, frustrations and failures completing a very valuable learning process. For helicopter types though, admitting and working through their own fears takes courage. Those ”what-ifs” and worst cases can pile high and push even the most committed parent back to safer ground.

Like any change, stepping back and taking a less is more approach to parenting takes time, patience and support, so offer a hand and a bit of encouragement when you see someone ready to abandon the hyper-parenting ship for a more satisfying approach to raising great kids!

What Can Mom and Dad Do Instead of Hovering?

If you’re still tempted to hover and you’re looking for a replacement response, you can, for your kids’ sake do one thing: train yourself to refrain. 

Literally, do less. Say less. Interfere less. Thats it!

Stepping back and giving your kids some breathing room isn’t the same as not caring about their safety.  It is a matter of balancing your concern with the reality that in most cases, your kids will be fine.  Instead of worrying about the worst case outcomes, take some time , and give your children the chance to show up and practice (and fail) at their own lives. I used Duct Tape (hence the name of my book!) to keep my mouth shut and my bossy, dictating ways at bay.

  • You may be a saver, so next time, sit.
  • You may be a comforter, so next time, stay.
  • You might be a nagger, so next time, zip it.

It’s not always a valiant course toward independence, but kids learn their own lessons every time we allow natural consequences to do the teaching for us and we refrain from saying “I told you so”.

Remember, our kids don’t need us nearly as much as we think they do (or want them to) and we don’t need to teach every lesson. Our job is to guide without control and to respond to them as the world would. Remember, bribing, begging and giving-in won’t train kids to become resilient adults. Keep this in mind and your decision to sit, stay & zip it will be much easier (even if it comes with the occasional hairy eyeball!)

Summer’s Here! Break the Rules

Sure, be a control freak...on yourself!

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.Dalai Lama

If you’re familiar with Parenting On Track™, you know our stance on time-outs, reminding and being a control freak (not to mention lecturing, nagging and so forth). If you aren’t sure, well, the simple stance is this: they are quick fixes with no lasting results. They don’t teach discipline and basically, they’re a waste of everyone’s time. The key is to put the relationship first.

However, now that summer’s here, it’s time to break the rules and implement TIME OUTS, REMINDING and BEING A CONTROL FREAK – but with a twist: to IMPROVE your family dynamic.

1. TIME OUTS: These are for YOU. Take them. Run to them. Cherish them. Carve them into your day. Take a time out from the hustle and bustle to walk around the block, sit and read while sipping tea, go to the garden or put the headphones on and put your feet up during nap time. DO NOT feel bad about taking TIME OUT for you. This, unlike time outs with kids, DOES teach discipline – it trains you to make a healthy decision to care for your own space and mental clarity.

2. REMINDING: Again. This is about YOU, the parents. Do not forget to REMIND YOURSELF to pay attention, to relax and to cherish. REMIND yourself how lucky you are. How wonderful your family is (faults and personality conflicts and all) and how far you’ve come. REMIND the kids that you appreciate them and that they can handle what comes their way. REMIND the family that practice is good and mistakes are positive and that slowing down is okay. These are the REMINDERS you’re encouraged to make.

3. BEING A CONTROL FREAK: I’ll say this again and again….There’s nothing wrong with being a control freak as long as you are controlling YOUR thoughts, actions and behaviors. MODEL MODEL MODEL. Let others be and break the rules…on yourself!

So, get out there and TELL US how you’re going to break these rules. Leave a comment below, tweet us @parentontrack or post your summer rule breaking on facebook.

P.S. It IS summer so don’t even bother with lectures and obviously, nagging is not one worth breaking…unless it’s nagging your spouse to snuggle up. Then we could let that one slip! Have fun breaking the rules folks.

IEP – Individual Encouragement Plan

I attended a conference many years ago given by Dr. Al Milliren titled “What to Do When They Make Your Hair Hurt – A Brain-Friendly Discipline Model for Responding to (Mis)behavior.”

It was excellent. At the time I was speaking regularly at In-Services and I was looking for ways to inspire educators to give Adler a “try in the classroom”.

So much of what Dr. Milliren presented that day was meaningful and relevant to anyone working with students, but one idea he offered was of particular interest to me.

When he threw up the slide Developing an “IEP” – “Individualized Encouragement Plan” I was immediately intrigued. This idea, more than other I heard that day stood out as something I believed any teacher, or for that matter any person working with kids could embrace and implement with ease and confidence.

A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Discouraged children act out and they act out in an attempt to find their place within the group in useless ways. These children do not require correction they require encouragement. And the idea that every child, whether they are misbehaving or not, deserves a personal Individualized Encouragement Plan suggested that we as the adults in their lives, could inspire and influence in inspiring and powerful ways.

Lets play the “Imagine This” game:

  • Imagine how your view of a child might change if you developed and “IEP” that highlighted the child’s strengths, assets, and unique talents and not their useless and challenging behaviors.
  • Imagine how different your relationship would be with this child if your focus and energy where towards implementing your IEP instead of on correcting the child during your time together.
  • Imagine how much more open and receptive he would be to your assistance and guidance as he grew and developed.
  • Imagine how you might communicate in more open, honest, reflective and respectful ways if you were using the IEP to guide the conversation.
  • Imagine how she might begin to experience herself as you brought more and more attention to her strengths, assets and unique talents.
  • Imagine how much more open minded, flexible, responsive and courageous he might be after days, weeks and months of your constant and consistent application of your specially designed Individualized Encouragement Plan.
  • Imagine a world, filled with encouraged boys and girls who felt empowered to participate in life in meaningful, engaged, and useful ways, all because you took the time to replace the “IEP”.

Thanks Dr. Milliren. This refreshing idea couldn’t come at a better time.

Al Milliren, Ed.D., N.C.C., B.C.P.C., is Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling and Team Leader for the School Counseling program at Governors State University in University Park, IL. He also serves as adjunct faculty for the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, IL. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, is Board Certified in Professional Counseling, and holds the Diplomate in the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology. Al has been a junior high school counselor and teacher, an elementary school counselor, and a Professor of Counseling at Illinois State University and at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is a national and international workshop presenter and has authored or co-authored several books and numerous articles on Adlerian Psychology and related topics. (A good friend to, and member of, NECAP, Al has also written or co-written prefaces to books by Bob Herrmann-Keeling, web master of this site.)

5 Tips: Kids Packing Lunch


As we said before, packing a lunch is a very useful and “real life” habit that will help your child develop responsibility, time management and confidence. It’s also a nice way to send the message that you trust your child with decisions that affect her life.

Here are 5 ways to help you make this process smooth and simple so that you can walk out of the kitchen and trust they can handle it.


The kitchen is where we keep all the necessities for packing lunches and making meals. Unfortunately, we often keep the clingwrap, napkins, bread and other essentials up high. Open your cabinets and open the low drawers- can your children use these items for making lunches? Or, is it stuff that can be put up high until it’s needed. You can even bring your dishes, bowls and cups to a lower height to make this easier for meals at home. In order to help your child’s independence, put anything and everything your child might need like straws, napkins, lunchbags, and so on. within easy reach.


Nothing says frustration like searching for containers and lids that don’t match. Stock one drawer, bin or cabinet and make sure that they can find matching lids and containers without needing you to “help” by digging through three buckets of plastic for them—it’s a pain. Set them up for success with matching storage containers / jars, etc. This includes drink bottles and screw tops as well!


If you have to, spend Sunday nights stocking the kitchen so the mornings are smooth and hands off. Stock one bottom drawer in the fridge with a week’s worth of juiceboxes, or other choices they can grab and pack themselves. Fill the other drawer with fruit or “healthy” options like yogurts, cheese, apple slices, premade “pbj” circle sandwiches, or applesauce, and so on. Stock the pantry or lower cabinet/drawer with a variety of snack, they can be crackers, graham crackers, or chips depending on what you’re committed to. Then tell the kids to choose one snack, one fruit and one dairy and they can choose the rest, or whatever your guildelines are. The most important part is to let THEM CHOOSE. If you’ve stocked it, it’s fair game!


Yes, they will want cookies and junk over healthy stuff but you can set the tone for a healthy lunch by offering “treats” you can live with. This will get them excited to pack their lunches – even if you HATE those fruit rolly things they ask for every time—if they agree to pack and eat other healthy options as well, let them have some sort of “exciting” lunch food they’ve been asking for – just choose something you can live with, vs. something that will eventually make you step in and say no. Kids are willing to balance their own lunches if they can have some say in what goes in there! So, again, stock a space and set a limit (there are five days, five roll ups, and if they eat them all by Tuesday, well, then, they’re out and they’ll have to choose something else). But, if they want one everyday, they’ll have to pace themselves. The point is, your kids are practicing real life skills. You can’t expect a 13 year old to make skillful choices if they haven’t been making them for 10 years. So provide opportunities for the kids to learn.


Don’t set out on this change in habit without setting some realistic goals. The first week might go great, but then everyone will fall off. Just know this will happen (it might not, but plan for it). Then, once you’ve gotten an idea of how you’d like to see the mornings go, aim for three days of the five. If you only hit two, well, it’s better than nothing. Keep going until your children trust you’re not even thinking about their lunches anymore! It takes time and it’ll never be perfect. Remember to invite them into the kitchen when you are preparing meals, this will help them feel more comfortable and practice outside of a morning or bedtime routine. Let yourself have a little room to make mistakes and it’ll be much easier to stick with it. [hr]

Kiddo, Pack Your Own Darn Lunch!

darn lunch

There’s something more delicious than a PBJ or bagel with cream cheese in your child’s lunch—something sweeter than a fresh baked cookie or chocolate milk. It’s CONFIDENCE. 100% pure confidence and responsibility…that is, if your daughter packs her own lunch, all by herself without any interference from you.

Maybe your child is already doing this and that’s terrific. But, perhaps she doesn’t – and you’re the one up early every morning, folding and zipping balanced foods into a Spongebob shaped lunchbox. If you are, the good news is you don’t have to do this and you don’t have to feel bad about quitting the job! Here’s the deal: by doing this task everyday for your child, you’re forfeiting a PERFECT opportunity to give your child some choice and real world decision making experience.

It may sound like no big deal, but a kid who packs his lunch is making decisions, testing his judgment (I can’t tell you how many times a kid has over packed or under packed, only to come home and admit they need to adjust the portions). They are practicing time management- everyday, before they leave they have to be sure they have food for the day. If they fall behind or forget, they have to figure something else out (like get the emergency lunch offered at the lunch line). When a child packs her own lunch, she realizes that she’s in charge of her decisions and is more willing to eat what she puts in there.

The biggest benefit to handing off this “chore” is that you’re saying to your kid, sure, I trust you to make a decision and stick to it. I also trust that you can do it.

Again, if packing lunch seems too simple a task to teach this valuable life lesson, I urge you to think about why you are hesitant to even consider the idea. You’ll be late. They’ll make bad choices! You don’t want to deal with the mess, and so forth. All the reasons why you “just take care of it” are the exact reasons, this is an awesome habit that will give your child some real world responsibility.

Yes, this effort will take some time and some planning, but don’t write it off, even if you fail a few days or weeks in. Try again and you’ll see that once you commit to giving it over to your child, your child will commit to taking care of it.

Just Ask, Your Kids will Appreciate it

A recent post on Alfie Kohn’s website. requires parents and educators alike to stop and consider everything they believed to be true. Kohn shares a perspective that could hit many squarely between the eyes.

Here are some excerpts to convey the point. Read full article here.

…”The point, of course, is to remind us adults how little we really know our kids and what they’re capable of doing”…

…”And why wasn’t she engaged in the classroom [life]? Well, people tend to become more enthusiastic and proficient when they’re in charge of what they’re doing”…

…”It was particularly disconcerting for me to realize that when the priorities of adults and kids diverge, we simply assume that ours ought to displace theirs… We tell more than we ask; we direct more than we listen; we use our power to pressure or even punish students [children] whose interests don’t align with ours. This has any number of unfortunate results, including loss of both self-confidence and interest in learning. But let’s not forget to number among the sad consequences the fact that many students [children] quite understandably choose to keep the important parts of themselves hidden from us. That’s a shame in its own right, and it also prevents us from being the best teachers [and parents] we can be.”

It’s comforting to know that Vicki Hoefle, as a result of Dr. Alfred Adler and Dr. Rudolph Drykurs, shows parents HOW to become more encouraging, engaged, accepting parents to our children.

When you finish reading Kohn’s article, you will be left with a choice – you may choose to say “WOW – that was powerful”, set the article aside and go back to doing exactly what you always do, or you will consider what Kohn is saying and take the first step in changing the relationship you have with your kids.

The choice – as always – is ours to make.

Kids and Sports (and Parents)

This is a great article. One of the best I have read when it comes to using common sense when talking about kids and sports. Because nowadays kids and sports isn’t really about those two things. It’s about the parents getting involved and we all knows it looks bad from that vantage point.

This article points out 5 Ways to Keep Youth Sports Fun and I found it refreshing, as well as, enlightening to read what Declan Connolly had to say.

Point One – Let the kids keep score and teach the coaches how to build fundamentals with a focus on skill development.

    Brilliant. I for one am not against good old fashion competition. As long as the rules are clear and it’s a level playing field, I say – go for it. Connolly informs parents that kids will indeed keep score and that’s okay. As long as the adults are focusing on the bigger picture, everything will balance out in the end.

Point Two – Keep “Play” Front and Center.

    Amen to that. My battle cry to parents who INSIST that their 7 year old shows real talent for pitching, blocking, jumping, throwing, back flips, etc. is this – the odds that your child will still be interested in this sport in 5 years in less than 20%. Let them enjoy the experience and be ready to purchase all new equipment for the next sport they find interesting. This article drives home the point using stats that will have every parent rethinking their position on pushing kids to compete before they are ready.

Point Three – Don’t Review Your Kids Performance On The Ride Home.


Point Four – Encourage Variety.

    Like life, this is another example of introducing balance into a child’s world. A thoughtful parent who is raising a “whole” child will understand the power of this idea. A narrow field of vision, whether it’s sports, academics, social or financial, limits our child’s ability to develop “mental muscle”. My motto – once they get good at something, change it up so that dealing with frustration and disappointment is as easy as changing from soccer to track shoes.

Point Five – Resist the Temptation to Coach Your Kid.

    How about you coach yourself or coach your friends. Try talking to yourself in the mirror and tell me how much YOU like being coached by you. More than one parent told me that this technique put a quick stop to their “good intentions” and “years of experience” that prompted them to coach the kids.

Bottom line – like everything else having to do with kids, sports is just another opportunity to turn over the reins to them, learn to listen instead of talk, follow their lead which builds confidence and stay flexible which will keep you young and supple for years to come.

The Risk of Rewards

Here it is again. Another article trying hard to educate parents on the dangers of praise and rewards.

Read Article Here

I pulled out one of my all time favorite books today The Art of Encouragement; Human Relations Training and skimmed through several chapters. Now, of course, I have to go back and read the whole damn book. It is just so good.

Here are just a few snippets I pulled out that focus on Encouragement which of course, is the remedy for a culture addicted to praise and rewards.

  • Encouragement focuses on strengths.
  • Encouragement is believing in ourselves.
  • Encouragement conveys faith in a person no matter how well or poorly things go.
  • Encouragement focuses on effort or improvement while praise focuses on outcome.
  • Encouragement challenges us to develop our potential while praise threatens us to do what is expected.
  • Encouragement can be given anytime.
  • Encouragement frees us to be our unique selves. Praise obligates us to obey authority.

Encouragement is an art form. It is subtle and powerful. It can be present at all times and can influence the direction of any situation, as soon as, it is activated.

I know how hungry parents are for ways to show their love, support, confidence and faith in their kids. And I know, with as much information readily available, that breaking the addiction to praise and rewards is still a daily challenge.

If you haven’t already committed to creating an encouraging atmosphere in which to raise your kids, take a few minutes and examine the decision you are making about praise and rewards in your child’s life.

If you find that you are ready for more ways to introduce encouragement into your family, let me know and I will write more about it. Learn more about the Parenting On Track program.

Dropping into your Life

roadmapMy 17 year old son Brady, the youngest of my kids, is leaving for Nepal in 6 days for a 3 month trek. All of his friends will be finishing up their last semester of High School, preparing for graduation and anxiously awaiting their acceptance letters from colleges they have applied too. Brady had something else in mind for his final year of high school.

After years of debating Brady about the merits of traditional education, the legitimacy of homework (although frankly, we don’t believe in homework) I finally opened my heart, my mind and practiced a bit of the Radical Faith I am always talking about, and said “yes” to Brady’s request to “drop out of school and drop into his life” (thank you Frankie for putting this so eloquently when you heard Brady had taken a different path).

Brady informed his guidance counselor that he would be leaving school at the end of the semester. He took the GED and the SAT’s and tested high on both. He is in good shape should he decide to pursue a traditional college education. Fat chance.

Since he dropped into his life and out of school, he seems happier than I have ever seen him. He is more interested and connected to his family and friends. He is more engaged in life and his natural curious nature has returned. What’s best though is that he is completely tapped into his own natural rhythm of learning. His appetite is ferocious. He is reading everything he can about Nepal, Katmandu, Buddhism, and the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. He is alive.

This is how I remember Brady as a small child in the field outside our home in Ludlow, where he would roam for hours, his head barely above the bramble, curious and interested in all that life had to offer him. He was reading by the time he was 3 and his verbal skills were off the charts. We had high hopes that school would hone his natural skills and provide new challenges and a stimulating experience. We were wrong.

School, over time, shut the door to his natural inclination to discover, to learn, to make sense of his surroundings and how to apply new information to his world. Over time, he lost interest. Over time he shut down.

It’s back now, the magic that made Brady – Brady.

The program he is enrolled in has a “Yak” board, where we parents can learn about the instructors and the other 12 kids embarking on this journey. One of the instructors, a Middlebury College Graduate, included a video that she said, explained exactly what this experience is meant to do.

I invite you to sit back, open your mind, and enjoy the 17 minute presentation that is sure to either support, challenge or inspire questions about our educational system and where your child fits into the mix.

Preschool graduation?

Ok, so we know it is far past graduation season, however the awareness this mom gained during a recent preschool graduation event is — timeless.

This post is re-printed with permission of the author, who has the uncanny ability to move me to tears, with each post. If you want to read about dedication, commitment, progress, set-backs, and real-life with Parenting On Track™, read this blog.

Really? I thought as I sat down.

I had arrived early for Talula’s last day of school as we had been asked by the teachers thinking we were having a BBQ, not realizing there was going to be some kind of ceremony for a bunch of 3 year olds. I sat down beside my husband wanting to say “are you freaking kidding me? they are having a graduation ceremony for these little goof-balls?”. But I couldn’t, I was surrounded by other adoring parents who may have been a tad offended by my comment, so I kept my mouth shut and grinned and bared it. Thankfully, they didn’t come out wearing cap & gown (as my mother asked when I told her about the whole event); but I did come away having been grateful that I just witnessed the whole thing. Who knew?

The children all proceeded into the end of the gymnasium that they had blocked off for this event in pairs waving “flags” that they had made. And there was Talula waving that flag high and proud like it was the most important thing in the world to her. All the kids were in two’s – except Talula, she was marching to the beat of her own drum, not being unruly, just doing her own thing and lovin’ it. She was so utterly confident, so utterly at ease in front of a bunch of people, so utterly content with life. And then I thought “I need to nurture this, I can’t let this belief she has about the way she approaches life fade away”.

AND THEN I thought about where Talula and I would be if I hadn’t become so consumed by the concepts behind Parenting On Track™. We’d be fighting. All the time. I’m an authoritarian, there is absolutely nothing permissive about me. Talula is my power child and WHOO BOY would we be butting our heads together like a bunch of stubborn male rams in heat if I hadn’t been blessed with the knowledge that I have been given by Parenting On Track™. Seriously. Thor is my attention child, and probably would have fallen in line with my authoritarian ways but eventually would have come out the other side as an adult that didn’t have any respect for me. But Talula and I ~wow ~ our relationship, at her tender age of 3, would have already been explosive and ugly.

In the last few days I’ve started to have the realization that as an authoritarian, I have attached myself to the “discipline” (and I use that term for the lack of a better word – it’s not discipline in the normal sense) strategies of Parenting On Track™ fairly successfully. I give them the choices, I let them feel the consequences of their choices, I ask them what the responsibilities are that go with the privilege they are asking for, I say “yes, as soon as….”. All those, “you’re going to go with the flow of the family” or else (?) things. Not that there is an “or else”; but it’s suddenly how I’ve been feeling. And then I realized why. I have been using all these strategies for making our life smoother, but have not been giving enough attention to one crucial thing: our relationship with each other. I have been thinking, I think, that just parenting this way was enough to make that connection with my kids. I think I believed that just by not being the nag, not being the enforcer, not being loosy-goosy, not being the yeller etc etc was all I needed to do to build a solid relationship with my children. Not so. And it took a ridiculous pre-school graduation to let me see that.

So here is my goal for the summer: build the relationship stuff. Keeping going with all the other stuff, but focus on the love of my children.

Oh, and I have one more goal for the summer: teach Talula that in’s and out’s of why we wear underwear.

Setting an Example

A happy marriage is the result of thousands of decisions we make as to how we will treat our spouse.

Sometimes we can forget to speak to our spouses using kind, compassionate, friendly, loving and appreciative communication. We can forget, that our children are observing us and making some serious decisions about gender issues, relationship issues and will eventually, begin to model to others, what they hear from us, when we are speaking to and with our spouses.

Take a deep breath here if you need to.

Not one of us means to be short, snappy, critical or disrespectful, to our spouse, but it can happen.

Personally, I am as crazy about my husband today, as I was when I first met him. It isn’t always easy, but we both work on it, not only for ourselves, but for our children as well.

We want our kids to have strong, loving relationships with their spouses and they are learning from us what that looks like and sounds like. I can see my kids watching us, storing information for a later date and in fact, I am beginning to witness some of the decisions they have made about male/female relationships as they enter into the dating world.

It is a clear and present reminder to both of us that we are always, yes always, teaching our children something. So we best be mindful of what we are teaching.

Tips for Success:

  • Listen to yourself for the next few days. Find the courage to do a true and honest evaluation of your daily communication style with your spouse.

  • Commit to using a more “appreciative communication style” for the next 21 days and then take the time to “notice” for yourself, what changes are occurring.

  • Using appreciations, especially when they are unexpected is a powerful tool in creating a kind, compassionate, understanding and accepting family dynamic.

  • Make sure that your appreciations are sincere and spontaneous. For instance, in the middle of a TV show, blurt something kind out so that everyone looks at you in a slightly questioning way, or shout across the room – Hey, ya know what I love about you……or walk out of the kitchen and whisper something sweet into your spouses ear. The smile on their face will convey to the kids that whatever you said, made the other person feel good inside.

Modeling for our children, is the most powerful teaching we do as parents. It also seems to be the most difficult. Take inventory over the next week and see if there aren’t ways that you can improve the relationship with your spouse – even if it’s already awesome – so that when your children are considering spending the rest of their lives with someone, they look to you as their role models.

From Frog Collecting to Number Crunching

Along with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. There are all kinds of systems families can use, and Parenting On Track is about progress, change, and the long-term goal of encouraging independence and self-reliance in our children.

Here is my “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike. With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

1. Ask yourself, “What will it take for my children to manage their schedules independently?” Work with your kids to make a list of everything that needs to happen in order for your kids to be ready for the school day. Access what they can do already, where they need some training, and what they need to learn from scratch. Set aside time each week to practice these life skills, and be sure to acknowledge growth and progress.

2. Allow your kids to establish a routine that works for them, even if they flounder for a week or two. This means not reminding them to pack their homework or asking if they remembered their soccer gear. Having to sit out a game or miss recess is a far more effective way for youngsters to learn to be responsible than parents constantly reminding.

3. Have faith that your children can handle the natural consequences of their decisions. If your daughter refuses to do her homework, let her work it out with the teacher, even if her grades suffer. Whereas the grades will come and go over the years, the self-reliance and sense of accountability that she’ll learn by solving her own problems will serve her well for the rest of her life.

4. Show empathy and help your children work through any problems that arise, but don’t be their savior. School offers a perfect testing ground for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and acquire the skills they’ll need in the “real world” after graduation.

5. Set parameters about acceptable dress for school that you and your kids can agree on, and then bite your tongue. Many schools have rules about attire (such as no midriffs or undergarments showing) that can help you frame this discussion. You may not love the outfits that your children choose to wear, but showing them that you respect their choices and believe in their ability to select their own clothing is far more important in the long run.

6. Establish a framework for discussing the ups and downs that your kids are sure to encounter as the school year progresses. You want your children to know that you’re on their side, no matter what. If your son brings home an “A” or scores the lead role in the school play, encourage him by asking questions about the experience. How did he prepare? What did that accomplishment feel like? Did he need to to work hard to reach his goal, or did it come easily to him? Likewise, if your daughter comes home with a “D” or doesn’t make the hockey team, you can ask her about that experience. How did she prepare for that moment? How does she feel about her grade? Was this important to her? What could she do differently next time?

7. Create a roadmap with your children to help them set goals for the year and begin thinking about what it will take to achieve those goals. Your kids will feel a sense of empowerment as they define and take ownership over their plans for the coming year.

8. Set up a time every week to connect as a family. This could be a dinner, a family outing, or a scheduled family meeting. The gathering does not have to take place at the same time every week, but be sure that it’s on everyone’s calendar so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

9. Figure out what you, as a parent, can let go of to encourage your childrens’ independence. Deciding not to “remind” or “do for” your kids may be hard at first, but in doing so, you are demonstrating to your children that you have faith in their abilities.

10. Go slow. Encourage progress and recognize growth, and remember that you are the best parent for your child.

Navigating Summer Expectations

expectSummer is when we have to step into new thinking and challenge ourselves to create realistic expectations that take into account our own unique style, as well as our children’s.

We train ourselves not to “compare”, but instead to view our children as individuals who have a particular temperament and rhythm, that when tapped into, makes parenting much more enjoyable.

Summer seems to be a particularly difficult time for many parents, and here is where a strong sense of what’s reasonable and what isn’t helps us navigate our way through some tough decisions.

    • Can you reasonably expect your child to mimic that amazing behavior they demonstrate at home when they are on vacation for a week?
    • Can you reasonably expect your child to mimic the same structure and routine found during the school year, during the lazy days of summer?
    • Can you reasonably expect your child to continue with their daily contributions when the morning runs into the afternoon with no distinction between the two?
    • Can you reasonably expect mealtimes to occur on a regular basis, attended by all family members?
    • Can you reasonably monitor how much time your kids spend plugged into some form of technology (including the cell phone)?
    • Can you reasonably expect your child to “get busy” on their summer reading list as if the assignment was due on Friday when in fact it isn’t due for 2 months?
    • Can you reasonably expect your child to sleep at your home 6 nights out of 7 when saying “it’s a school night” isn’t an option?
    • Is it reasonable to expect your child to talk as openly and as often with you as they did last year?
    • Is it reasonable for a child to “just hang this summer” before they get a job, even if they are already 16?
  • Is it reasonable for a new college graduate to know exactly what they will be doing with their life simply because they received another diploma?

The truth is, we all have expectations. And most of our expectations are built on the dreams we have of what life “could” look like, if our kids followed the well thought out plans of their parents. But as we all come to realize (some earlier than others) is, that kids are “creating” their lives as they go along. For them, there is no grand scheme of things. There is today. And sometimes the expectations they have for themselves and of the world, are more relevant and realistic than their parents.

This summer, take some time to re-establish a clear set of expectations for yourself. Leave your kids alone for a few weeks or months and concentrate instead on you. Challenge some basic assumptions you have about kids, the world, work, love, technology, education, faith, friendship, sexuality. Challenge the idea that all you want is “what’s best for your kids” and how that seemingly simple line can wreak havoc on a budding and fragile adolescent personality. Challenge yourself to decide for yourself what expectations need a bit of updating, which ones need a solid kick out the door, and which ones support both a beautiful relationship with your child and their ability to grow into confident and independent people.

Here is my one, over arching expectation for myself, which as it turns out, has been communicated clearly enough to my kids, that the think it’s the same for them – which maybe isn’t such a bad thing

My expectation is this:

That I show up in my own life with a willingness to do whatever it takes to make the most out of each encounter and each opportunity presented to me, so that at the end of the day, I can safely say – this was a day well lived.