Questions to Ask Your Children about Trust

Family around dinner tableDr. Robyn Silverman

Some parents have asked me for some great conversations they can have at their dinner tables about the Powerful Wordtrust.  It’s a great idea to set aside time to talk about values and listen to what your children have to say.  You can even put some questions on cards and put them in the middle of the table, have each person pick a card, read it, and answer.  Or simply take turns answering the question around the table.

You can take the same principal and do “sentence stems.” This is when you start a sentence and have someone else finish it.  It reveals how your family members think is a fun way.

Here are some examples of “Powerful conversation starters” and “Sentence stems” you can use to talk about trust and honesty.

  1. Is it ever alright to lie? Can you think of a time when you might have to lie? What would the rest of the family think about that?
  2. Is it ever alright to steal? Can you think of a time when you might have to steal? What would the rest of the family think about that?
  3. Who are the people, other than those in your family, who you trust the most? What makes you trust them?
  4. When was the last time that you showed someone that you are a trustworthy person?
  5. If someone breaks trust once, do you think he’ll do it again? Why or why not?
  6. When I make a promise…
  7. When someone tells me a secret…
  8. When someone trusts me I feel…

I’m sure you can think of your own Powerful Conversation Starters and Powerful Sentence Stems that you can bring to your dinner table. Sometimes you might find that you’ll go through many– other times you might find that an involved and interesting conversation comes from one little question.

Try it– and let us know the results!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

My Child is Stealing! Dr. Robyn Talks about Trustworthiness

Ask Dr. Robyn: Tips for Dealing with a Child who Steals

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Has your child from a store? From a friend’s house? From someone in the family? It turns out, it’s not that uncommon! Perhaps they don’t understand that stealing is wrong as of yet.  Perhaps they’re trying to get your attention.  Perhaps they simply lack self control at this time.  Whatever the reason, we know we want to teach our kids that stealing is wrong. Since this month’s Powerful Word is Trustworthiness, let’s talk about exactly what to do if you find out your child is stealing.

Dear Dr. Robyn,

The other day, my six year old and I went to the supermarket. When we got into the car after shopping, I noticed that she had a pack of gum in her hand. I found out later…that she stole it from the store. I do not want my child to become a little thief. She has never done it before and I can’t imagine where she learned it. What should I do? –Greg, Toledo OH

We’ll be talking about stealing during week 2 of the Powerful Words curriculum this month at all member schools.

Have a Powerful Day!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Letters to their Helicopter Parents from their Kids: 1st of Series

child writing to his helicopter parents

Dear Dr. Robyn: Letters about My Helicopter Parents

Dr. Robyn Silverman

This week, we’re concentrating on Helicopter Parents because of the number of questions and letters I’ve received on the topic lately from our readers. The letters in this series are all taken from the comments section of one of my most popular articles; “Overprotective Parents: Helpful of Harmful?”

Again, Helicopter Parents are mothers and fathers who hover closely over their children and swoop down to do things for their children (whether their sons and daughters want the help or not) to make things easier for their children, take away pain, or alleviate stress (even when it’s part of normal development and the experience of growing up).

It’s clear that we only want the best for our daughters and sons—at any age. Of course we do! However, it’s vital that as parents we don’t alienate our children or frustrate them into a frenzy because we want to love and protect them. There is a letting go process that we must allow so that children can stand on their own two feet and grow up to be responsible adults.

In the letters this week, you will see that these young adults and teen don’t know what to do but they are certainly fed up with being treated like children. Are you feeling the same way? Or are you the parent of a teen or young adult who you are scared to let go? Either way, please read below and comment. We need to talk about this if we’re going to get anywhere.

Featured Letter #1

Dear Dr. Robyn,

Reading this article (and others like it) has led me to believe that I am actually a child of so-called “helicopter parents”.

Honestly, debilitating is a good word for it. Annoying too. I mean, I’ve actually BEGGED my parents to let me do my own laundry, but was denied because “you cant cuz everyone’s laundry is done at once” blah blah blah. I could just do the whole load was my answer and to that I get “e-eh–nawww, thats not a good Idea!” ….

As you’ll see from my site, I’m an artist, and I actually think the reason I AM is because I gained a sense of freedom from it. How I found this site was cuz I NOW feel like my parents have took THAT away from me cuz for some reason they have a giant wall devoted to my artwork now….so it feels like its something they ENCOURAGED me to do….GAHH! I wan out of this house!!!

so yeah, I agree, debilitating is a good word for it

Dr. Robyn’s answer to Rob:

Hello Rob-

First, I’ve checked out your site and can see you are a very talented person! Congrats on your great work and finding your passion.

It can be frustrating when parents want to do so much. I can hear from what you’re saying, that they clearly love you and care for you– but you are feeling smothered.

Sometimes, we just throw up our hands and say “forget it” and cave in. However, other times, we need to take more action. Remember- The only person’s behavior you are in control of is your own.

You may want to call a meeting with you and your parents and express your feelings there. NICELY. Talk about how appreciative you are of their interest and their love, but you would like to do some things that make you feel more like a responsible man rather than a child….and here are a few things you would like to do– and then discuss them. They may not fully understand why you feel you want to do the laundry– or why you want to do other things similar to that. If you clearly and nicely tell them how you’re feeling and what you would like to do, they may just open their minds.

Because we aren’t in control of other people’s behaviors, you could make some changes on your own– for example, if your parents won’t let you do your laundry in your house, take it to a laundry facility and do it there. However, I would take the “talking approach” first– sitting down with your parents and having a responsible, clear conversation– before doing this type of thing because it could come off as passive aggressive otherwise.

Hmmm. As far as the art goes– I don’t know that you’ll win that debate. The reason why? They’re proud of you. They may do it in an over-the-top way but many parents don’t acknowledge their children talents at all so at least in that sense, if you step back for a minute, you’ll see that you’re lucky. I hear you that it’s annoying– but I probably wouldn’t fight for less “pride” when it comes to your art work, and instead, focus on the other things that are bothering you when you speak to your parents. It seems that the “art wall” is really just adding fuel to the fire– but not what’s causing the fire itself. Make sense?

Let us know when you do it. Remember, these are people who love you– so be gentle but firm. Tell them what you would like to do to help you grow up into the responsible man you want to be– be clear about what you want– and appreciative and grateful for how they’ve helped you.

Good luck-
Dr. Robyn

Any other advice for Rob? Please comment below with your own questions, stories, or 2 cents.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

–clipart from Jupiter images

Parents Lying to Children: Necessary or Hypocritical?

Lying to our Children: The Elephant in the Room Meets The Hypocrite in the Mirror

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman


In the wake of honesty month, for Powerful Words, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Parents often lie to their children. It’s OK, right? After all, our parents did it. Most parents still do.

You eat a cookie before dinner and then deny it. You call in sick to work and tell them you had a day off. And yes, you may have even told that you didn’t inhale.

But if we’re supposed to lead by example, why do so many parents lie to their children? We often tell our children that lying is (nearly always) unacceptable. Parents lie for all different reasons; from lying for the protection of their children, to keeping details about sex, drugs, smoking, death, war and peace ? Is it ethical? Hypocritical? Wise? Necessary?

Some things to consider:

  • Reasons for lying
  • Possible benefits from telling the truth
  • Goals for child as a parent

(1) Reasons for lying: First to consider is why you’re lying to your child in the first place. Most parents lie just to keep their kids from being prematurely pushed from their comfort zones. That’s a good reason. After all, information that we give our children should be age-appropriate so that it can be easily understood and processed.

  • Why it can be a bit hypocritical: Well, we ask children to not only tell the truth, but not to omit details of the truth either. Then we go ahead and do a covert cover up, leave out pieces of the story, or just tell them a bold faced lie. Let’s call a spade a spade here.
  • Why it can be necessary: When children are asked to listen and accept truths prematurely, it can be very scary and confusing for them. Parents often know best. Yes, some topics are not meant for little ears and others need to be explained very delicately or in broad brush-strokes. If you’re unsure how to handle a touchy situation, talk to your Pediatrician or other helping professional.
  • Parents Biggest Mistake: Your child asks you a question and you tell him that he’s too young to talk about such things (i.e. sex, drugs, smoking, etc). Mark my words, he’ll either (1) find out from another source, (2) become so interested in it that he gets into some trouble (forbidden fruit), or (3) he’s already doing it or thinking about doing it and you just missed your opportunity to talk about it with him!!! Don’t make this mistake!!!

(2) Benefits from telling the truth: Telling the truth can also be beneficial in certain situations. Some children would take their parents’ admissions of past mistakes as a point of connection between them. Children can also learn from your past mistakes or the mistakes of others. They also may appreciate and show gratitude for their current lifestyle, opportunities, and support system by knowing what came before them to make it possible. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, children and teens will learn about drugs, sex, war and other touchy topics from someone—make yourself their first and most credible resource.

  • Be sure to express your opinion: If you choose to tell the truth about your own past experiences and mistakes, be sure to talk to your children about why you believe it was a mistake, what you wish you had done instead, and how you feel about your children participating in such situations. Show the amount of disapproval such a thing deserves such as sex at a young age or drugs.
  • Be sure to ask questions: Don’t be the one who does all the talking. Ask your children and teens how they feel about these topics, questions and concerns that they have, why it’s of interest now, and how you can help them the most. Let them tell you their stories and talk to you about their fears, interests, and worries. Listening is one of the best things you can do.
  • Caution! Remember to make your explanations age-appropriate. In many cases, it’s best if details of crazy parties, early sexual experiences, drug use, and smoking, were left out. Explaining too much in detail might give the kids the impression that you miss what you used to do or that you feel it was a good idea—even if you don’t believe that at all. Children also don’t need to hear many of the gory details of the current war your brother or niece is helping to fight—but rather, the hard work their doing, their bravery, and the band of brothers and sisters that are working to keep them as safe as possible so that we can all be safe at home. By the same token, when you are divorcing filling your child’s head with information about spousal infidelity, stealing, cheating, and backstabbing is not appropriate—but rather, that while his parents no longer love each other or can live with each other, both parents will always love him, care for him, and it’s in no way his fault. As yourself, how does this information serve my child? And remember to think about why they might be asking—for reassurance, for basic information, for safety, or what?

(3) Goals for Child: Think about your goals for your children. If you shelter them, it may backfire. They feel unprepared or lied to—and this could put in question your credibility. On the other hand, too much information can be confusing and scary. You must really listen to your child and help him without overwhelming him. You must teach him integrity, honesty, and trust, without compromising yours.

  • Note: Telling them all of your past mistakes may make them wonder about your credibility—if you did X, did you also do Y? In addition, watch those double standards! Telling children not to smoke, while smoking yourself, can be a tough fight to win.

I know, it can all be very uncomfortable, right? To tell the truth or to tell a lie? Powerful Words do make us look harder in our own mirror. At least we’re almost onto a new month…determination…get out your running shoes!

copyright: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Clipart credit: Jupiter Images

Tell Me Lies: Children Learn to Flatter at age 4

Like to hear how much your child adores you? Children learn to tell social lies around 4 years old—that’s right, they learn how to flatter others and tell you just what you want to hear!

In the spirit of the Powerful Word of the month—honesty–it’s humorous that we don’t always want our children to tell the truth all the time, do we? If they did, you might be startled by what you hear. See this 30 second clip from one mother whose child hasn’t censored his real thoughts about her as an example…

A Chinese-Canadian study out of the University of Toronto shows that even young children know the power of flattery. The researchers focused on 285 children ages 3-6 years old, and asked the youngsters to rate drawings by children and adults who they knew, as well as to rate the drawings of strangers.

The preschoolers were asked to judge these art pieces both when the artist responsible was present as well as when the artist was absent. While the 3 year olds were consistently honest no matter if they had a relationship with the artist or if the artist was there to hear their assessments, the 5 and 6 year olds gave more flattering ratings to those artists who were present to hear their remarks. Interestingly, they flattered both strangers and those people who they knew—however, those whom they had a relationship consistently received the highest praise.

Among the 4 year olds, half the group provided flattering remarks when the artist was present and half did not. This finding suggests that 4 years old marks a transition from honest critique to flattery as the child gains a better understanding of the culture’s social courtesies.

Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at OISE/U of T and co-author of the report (recently published in the journal Developmental Science) isn’t certain of why the children flatter at this age but he knows that something is definitely going on:

“I’m sure politeness and empathy play some role,” Lee tells a reporter “But the fact they gave higher ratings to some groups than others suggests there is some form of ulterior motive beyond just being polite. We socialize kids to show empathy and politeness to everybody, not more to some people than to others.”

We can look to adults to glean some possible answers. According to Lee, adults flatter because; (1) They are showing gratitude for some positive; or (2) They’re creating a bridge with someone whom they’re meeting for the first time in case that person could be important for their advancement later down the road—it’s viewed as an “investment” in their positive treatment from the other person in the future.

“We don’t know which the child is doing…They are thinking ahead, they are making these little social investments for future benefits.”

In my assessment, the children may also be reacting to other social beliefs that mean statements may “get them into trouble” and nice statements make others happy, which feels good to everyone. Lee previously studied the responses of children ages 3 to 11, who were given gifts they didn’t like. Findings suggest that even 3-year-olds tell white lies to avoid hurting the feelings of the gift-giver.

Regardless of the reason for the flattery, our society does indeed teach children that honesty isn’t always the best policy, even if we tell them that they should always tell the truth. Adults do it themselves. We spare the feelings of others by telling them we like the “great book” they gave us of the “beautiful scarf” they knitted for a friend. But Lee suggests the flattery is motivated by self-interest and can annoy those who watch it happening (i.e. when an employee is flattering the boss).

“Kids at 4 or 5 are able to make distinctions already – that this lie is bad but this one is not very bad.”

Note: Your children will be discussing the question; “is honesty always the best policy” in the 4th week of this month’s Powerful Words curriculum. Aside from flattery, and “good” secrets like surprise parties for family of friends, all Powerful Words Member Schools will be discussing honesty with regard to strangers. Questions like, “should we tell strangers our phone number and address?” (for young children) and “how honest should we be with strangers on line?” (for older students), among others, will be explored.

All Powerful Parents are encouraged to use the Powerful Words curriculum as a Springboard for discussion at home or in the car to discuss how honesty plays a role in your family’s life and what your policies on are with regard to lying and telling the truth in different situations (i.e. when they made a mistake, when grandma gives them a gift they don’t like, when a stranger approaches them and asks them personal information, etc.) Stay tuned to your Powerful Words member schools for additional information on this topic.

We’re looking forward to hearing your comments on this topic as well as any child development issue! Please put your questions and comments below so we can create a dialog on these topics!


*image from Jupiter images.

7 Tips to Help Children Learn Good Money Habits: Interview with Money Man, Sam Renick

How can our children and teens get honest about their money habits?

Dr. Robyn interviews Mr. Sam Renick about teaching children financial literacy

Thank you for joining us here at the Powerful Parent Blog, Mr. Renick. I know you’ve spent a great deal of time working with children on creating a “habit” of earning and spending money wisely through your children’s character “Sammy, the get in the habit, rabbit. In the spirit of honesty month, you really help them to get “honest “with their money habits. So let’s jump right in so we can help parents teach their children financial literacy, a vital skill everyone should learn, and that we’ve been discussing lately and that we’ve discussed previously on the blog.

What kind of information do you share with children about money?

I spend a lot of time talking with elementary school students sharing with them: why I think saving money is a great habit; how it makes them strong and why habits are important. I let them know the key reason why a habit like saving money is important and powerful is because it has a predictable outcome. In other words, the habit of saving money is reliable. It’s dependable. It’s true. It’s honest.

What happens when children and teens make a habit of saving money?

When we make a habit of saving money we can honestly predict our money will grow. We can also honestly predict: (1) we will be better prepared for emergencies; (2) we will be better positioned to make dreams come true; (3) we will be better prepared to help ourselves and others; (4) we will be better prepared to get what we want and need, when we want and need it; and (5) we will have more choices, freedom, independence and security.

And if we don’t “get honest” with ourselves and make it a habit?

As you can imagine, the opposite it true. If we fail to be honest with ourselves about our money habits and routinely exceed our budgets, spend more than we make, and carry credit debt, then it should not come as a surprise that we will have less freedom, more worries, more stress and more strain on relationships.

What can parents do to help their children develop smart money habits?

  1. Walk the talk – part 1. I don’t know of anything that’s more honest or “powerful” (to use your word, Dr. Robyn) than leading by example. If you’re already doing a good job, keep it up. If not, start by improving your own understanding of personal finance by reading a good book on the subject. I recommend “The Way to Wealth,” by Benjamin Franklin and “Raising Money Smart Kids,” by Janet Bodnar.
  2. Walk the talk – part 2. If I could only give a person one piece of advice regarding money it would be this – “pay yourself first.” So, if you are not saving or investing, start. If you are in credit card debt, start systematically paying it off. Get committed to living a debt free life. This will set an excellent example for kids to follow. The web is filled with resources and discussion groups that can help. MSN Money, CNN Money, Yahoo are all good places to begin.
  3. Talk regularly with kids about money. Studies routinely cite lack of communication between parents and children as a common obstacle to raising money literate kids. Take advantage of natural opportunities to involve kids in money related discussions while shopping, budgeting, making lists, recycling, and paying bills. The more responsibility you can appropriately give them for activities the better. Also be sure to initiate dialogue about dreams, goals, home ownership, investments, etc.
  4. Start early with books and music. Expose children to books and music about money early and often. Naturally, I recommend our books and music. For older kids, I love Chad Foster’s “Financial Literacy for Teens,” and David Bach’s “The Automatic Millionaire.”
  5. Instill the habit. Get your child a transparent piggy bank, or better yet create your own family savings bank. Our family did this when we were kids using a Sparklett’s bottle. We all loved it and it really promoted discussion about how to use the money once the bottle was full. When the bank is full take your child to the bank or credit union, start an account and deposit the savings. Review their statements with them regularly.
  6. Affirmations. Provide kids with fun slogans to repeat. Here are a few of Sammy’s favorites: Saving is a great habit! Saving makes me strong! Change adds up! From every dollar, save a dime! Debt Stinks! I am sure you have some of your favorites. Post the slogans around the house or paint them onto your family savings jar.
  7. Allowance. Give your child an opportunity to manage money. Be consistent and supportive. Allow kids to make their own decisions and mistakes within reason. For tips on allowance, check out David McCurrach’s “Allowance Magic.” It’s an excellent read.

Thank you, Sam, for being with us today and giving us these very important tips!

Who is Sam Renick and how can you get in touch?

Sam X Renick is an award winning author, songwriter, trainer, social entrepreneur, and co-creator of the children’s character ‘Sammy, the get in the habit rabbit.’ He is also the founder of The It’s a Habit! Company, Inc., a socially conscious publishing and education company dedicated to helping children and families develop good habits, especially saving money. You can learn more about Sammy, Sam, It’s a Habit! and their mission at

Miss Minnesota Contestant Raises Financial Awareness: The Queen of a Thousand Smackers

Cash. Coin. Coconuts. No matter what you call it, people are talking about it. Or are they?

My husband, Jason, and I often discuss the strange fact that we don’t learn about managing money in school. And yet, it’s vital to existing responsibly and independently even before we graduate into the “real world.”

The Facts:

  • The number of credit card offers given to high school and college students has increased in relation to the weak economy
  • Students as young as 15 or 16 years old can obtain credit cards
  • Credit card companies are encouraging young students to “start building their credit early” without being mindful of the education teens need prior to using a credit card responsibly
  • A 2001 study by Nellie Mae, a loan provider for college students, found that 83% of undergrads have at least one card and the average balance was $2,327.
  • Students having balances of over $3000 rose to 21%, a 61% increase since 2000.
  • College students will double their credit card debt and triple the number of cards they have between the time they set foot on the college quad at orientation and the time they leave after graduation.
  • When quizzed about paying taxes, using credit cards and retirement savings, year after year, 12th graders have received a failing grade.

One of my roommates after college was so far in debt she became reliant on others to cosign on loans, verify that rent would indeed be paid, and pay for anything that required a credit card—since she no longer had one. Isn’t anyone teaching money management?

Turns out, some people are making it their mission.

Meet beauty queen, Kelsey Malecha. You usually hear pageant queens using their platform to educate others about cancer research, children with disabilities, reading programs, and self esteem for teens. But financial literacy? That’s a new one.

Kelsey Malecha says told her local paper that her mission in life is to teach others about how to save and spend money wisely.

How did she wind up on such a path?

The Good:

I wanted something that would relate to everyone and I thought about it for a long time and realized, well, I came from a household where I got an individual retirement account (IRA) as a graduation present from high school. I didn’t get a car like some of my friends; I got an envelope with an IRA stub in it.

The Bad:

While I was in college I incurred some credit card debt, which snuck up on me like it does for a lot of people. It was a very stressful situation, because I’d wake up every day and go to work — and I realized I’m not going to work to get spending money like my friends, I’m going to work to pay off my credit card debt.

The Ugly:

I had about $5,000 (of credit card debt). It was keeping up with the Joneses. I think the first purchase that started to rack up on it was my first iPod Nano. I had to get it the minute it came out. I saw that a lot. When I worked at Best Buy, I’d see people buying Nanos and buying cell phones who had poor credit. … We are a materialistic society and we do make emotional spending decisions just to feel good. I’d see people coming into Best Buy and they’d say, “I need some retail therapy.”

After getting honest with herself and paying off her debt, she got serious about teaching young people to be more careful with money. She has presented to children as young as 1st grade up through high school. Her frustration lies with the fact that schools don’t seem to teach financial literacy.

Kids love money, they love talking about money. … I’m surprised we don’t have more classes in schools about how to handle money. And it’s such an important life skill — being able to manage your finances — that I wish it were a graduation requirement.

Getting a Powerful Jump on things:

Since money management is such an important skill, we’re inviting Sam Renick, speaker and author of children’s book, It’s a Habit, Sammy Rabbit! to the Powerful Parent Blog to tell us about how to help our children save and use money wisely. He’ll be with us later this week! Interestingly, his book is one that Kelsey Malecha uses to educate students about financial literacy.

Money Management is part of learning responsibility, self control, discipline, and goal-setting. These are indeed Powerful Words. Those who save and spend wisely can focus on what they want out of life rather than how they’re going to pay back what they owe. We owe it to our children to teach them the way.