Getting children to redefine what their best is…everyday

Dr. Robyn SIlverman as a young teenager

Do you see “vision” in the eyes of your child?

Dr. Robyn Silverman for Powerful Words

Some might say that the difference between a successful child and an unsuccessful child is brains.  Others might say talent. Still others, might realize that it may just be the vision and belief that one can set goals, go after those goals, and succeed in achieving those goals.

When I was about 8-12 years old, I was convinced that I was stupid.  My brothers had been in all the advanced classes- I hadn’t. My brothers got high marks on all their tests—I didn’t.  My brothers were among those kids invited to their teacher’s home for a special celebration of “smartness” and I…played with the Barbie dream home.

It wasn’t like I was failing anything—I was pretty much just average. But boy—it was convenient to believe otherwise. “I’m not as smart as my brothers” and “I’m stupid” became my mantra.  It was my answer to all things challenging at school—all bad grades, the reason I was more of a follower than a leader among my friends, my fallback mantra anytime I got stuck in a pickle–  it provided my perfect excuse for mediocrity.

What’s funny about the repetition of a mantra is that not only do you begin to believe what you are saying—but so do others around you. My family just knew that they needed to help me out quite a bit since I could hardly do things myself.  My mother barely would say anything about the Cs on my report card because they were clearly the best I could do. My father admitted later on in life that he began to thank God that I was cute since I didn’t get blessed with the brains in the family. It’s not their fault.  I was VERY convincing.

So, when I entered 8th grade, I didn’t expect anything different than my typical average performance. Nobody did. But in meeting Mr. Hendrickson, who asked us all to call him “Hendi” since he was only 24 years old at the time, I had met my match.  Still young enough to know what a cop out looked like and old enough to know the difference between poor self esteem and actual stupidity, he called me into his office.

“What do you need in order to ace this next math test?”

“I can’t ace any test.  I’m a horrible test taker and I stink at math.”

“But what if you could?”

“Could what?”

“Ace the test. What would you need to do it?”

“Someone else’s brain?”

(The parent/teacher look.  You know the one.  You probably give it to your children when they make such remarks.)

“OK. I guess I would need a lot of extra help (but I couldn’t resist)…but a brain transplant couldn’t hurt.”

“Fine. My door is open to you everyday during free periods and after school. As for the brain transplant, you don’t need it.  But you need a thought transplant. You need a new definition of what your best is.”

“I try my best.”

“No, you try what you once believed was your best. You need a new definition. Your current definition is yesterday’s news. What do you want now? What can you do now? I don’t think you know what you are capable of.”

“Not much.”

“You’re doing it again. I’m not buying it. I want you to wipe clean the slate and see what’s possible now.  You’re going to ace this test.”

“If you say so.”

No , I want you to say so.”

“I’m not there yet.”

“Get there.”

“I’ll try.”

You see, I was basing my performance level, my attitude, and my belief in myself on who I believed I was—the stupid one—not on who I could be. Once this belief was exposed, I needed to either prove him wrong or prove him right.

So for the next 2 weeks I came in every day for extra help.  An opportunity had opened up—not that it wasn’t always there but I hadn’t been willing to take it.  After all, why bother when the results were bound to be the same?  Perhaps even with extra help, I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  But in the back of my head, a tiny voice asked meekly, but what if you could?

The day of the test came. I took it and didn’t feel half bad about it. Not that that would make a difference—since the results were bound to be the same.  But what if they weren’t?

It was later on in the day that I bumped into Hendi.  He stopped me in the hallway and said; “You did it.”

Not believing my ears I asked, “I did what?”

“You aced the test.”

Doubting these different results I questioned, “are you sure?”

To which he joked, “I’m not checking it again.  See… you can do it.  And now we all know.  We all have a new definition of what your best is. So, now you’re really in for it!”

It’s a day that changed more than just my definition of my best. It told me what was possible. It changed my vision of the future and redefined what I was capable of NOW rather than going by what I thought I was capable of then.  It infused me with confidence and the ability to push myself and to redefine what my best is every day.

Children must have the ability to dream if you want to see them rise to their potential . They must believe in what’s possible even if it hasn’t been done before.  They must be willing to challenge themselves and others. And yes, they must redefine what is “their best” everyday and refuse to live by yesterday’s definition of one’s best.

As parents and teachers,we must give children the permission to succeed—dropping who they might have been and building on who they can be. Sometimes we all get stuck in believing their performance sabotaging mantras. It’s time to stop allowing it to happen.

So, how are you inspiring your children to redefine their definition of their best?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Letters about My Helicopter Parents: Part 2

helicopter parentDr. Robyn Silverman

We’re continuing our discussion about helicopter parents, overprotective parents who won’t let go and hover over the heads of their children, heading off potential challenge/risk or taking over their responsibilities even as they enter their teens and adult years. This is part 2– part 1 is here.

The questions for today are, how can we help parents to take a step back and allow children in their 20s to grow up and be self-reliant?  Should we? Are adult children in their 20s too young to “go it alone” in today’s world? Do you think parents are having a problem “backing off” these days and allowing children to make mistakes and take risks?  As a parent, how have you approached the “letting go” process? Are you helpful or a helicopter?


Letter from 20-something, T.O

Hello I know the feeling and everything you say about these helicopter parents. I have two. But why is my mom…an Extremely Over Protective Parent, does she have the right to control my life? I thought we are all consider adults at 18 years old? I am now in my late 20’s.! I don’t know what to do anymore!!! She treats me and my older sister (who is in her early 30’s) like we’re 10 years old…!!

Dr. Robyn responds:

Hello T.O.

I can tell that you’re very frustrated with your parents right now. They clearly care about you. Have you talked to them, in a very adult manner, about your concerns, wants, and needs As an adult? Do you live very close by? Do you have healthy boundaries with you parents?

As an adult, it’s very important that you talk to your parents and tell them how you feel and what you’d think would be healthier in your parent-adult child relationship. Be specific. Sometimes, when people don’t move away from home (for college or otherwise), there is a lack of shift in the relationship from between childhood and adulthood.

It’s past time. It may be a difficult conversation, but after all, you’re an adult, and you can handle it!

Certainly, be kind to your parents. The more adult, grateful, and kind you can be, the more they will see you as the independent adult you long to be.

Best regards,
Dr. Robyn


Please provide with your comments and feedback for T.O and whomever else might be wondering what to do in similar circumstances.  Do you have helicopter parents?  Have you been able to overcome their over-protectiveness?  How?

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

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.

Raising Healthy Kids: 7 Ways to Get Children to Eat A Healthy Lunch

Parents: Could getting your child involved in making lunch simply end up creating a mess of unappetizing foods not even appealing to a hungry dog? It doesn’t have to be! (Enjoy this short piece of nostalgia on Lilly Tomlin’s Edith Ann, creating her lunch masterpiece from Sesame Street, above.)

Since the article on vending machines and poor eating in schools , I’ve received some questions from parents who want to know about how to get their children to eat a better lunch while at school.

No, I’m not a proponent of bribing or threatening children to eat lunch and I’m certainly not a fan of the whole “clean your plate club” way of thinking. But there are some ways that make it more likely that your children will eat a healthy, nourishing lunch.

I know, it’s sometimes hard enough to get children to eat healthy, nutritious foods while their at home—how are you supposed to help them choose healthy foods while they’re in school? And all the competition with processed, colorful Lunchables, overly sweetened juices, frosted pop tarts, and imitation pressed fruit in the shapes of animals and cartoons—what carrot stick and whole wheat bread sandwich is going to stack up?

The truth is, while you may not always be able to choose what they eat that day, you may be able to influence what choices they have to choose from!

Here’s some ways to get started:

(1) Get the children involved in the weekly menu: When children get to choose what they’re going to eat, they are much more likely to eat it. If they can accompany you to the grocery store, that would be a great start. Have a farmer’s market or farm stand nearby? Going together would be a gift. However, if you’re strapped for time, pull up a chair and have a weekly meeting with your children about what they’d like to eat that week. For young children, give them a few choices to choose from so that they don’t get overwhelmed. Have them choose which protein, veggie, fruit, carb, and desert or snack they’ll have in their bag each day of the week. Post up their choices on a sheet with their name on it so that everyone can see it. Get them excited about the good choices they’ve made and praise them for taking care of their body. This will certainly help them to feel powerful!

(2) Keep it interesting: You can expand on your children’s choices and introduce them to things they may not have tried before. My brothers used to love cereals when they were little. Mom got creative and made “Mom’s Magical Mixed Up Cereal” that was comprised of little bits of this cereal and that. While it was comprised to make use of small bits of leftovers in several boxes, you can do the same to up the nutritional content and fun factor. Also, offer alternatives. If they ask for candy or chocolate for their snack, you can offer a great alternative like a trailmix or a homemade granola that the two of you make together with coconut, oats, nuts, and chocolate chips. If they like fruit, offer it dried, sauced, whole, or baked. If they like sandwiches, offer bagels, crackers, wraps, or special breads you can make together one weekend in your kitchen or bread maker. Why not?

(3) Don’t forget about last night’s dinner: I was never much of a lunch person when I was little. I like hot food much better than wilted salads and lunch meats. So Mom often packed me little bits of “last night’s dinner” and tended to make extra when we were having chicken cutlets or soups. My favorite lunch was always soup in a thermos. It was always hot and predictable and never got smooshed or soggy. Take a look at what healthy foods your child really likes and see how you can give it to him for lunch.

(4) Make food fun: Lunch is a social time for children and “best friends” for a day can be made over who gives who a piece of their watermelon. In first grade I remember Jenny Colona told me she’d be my “very best friend” if I traded her a pretzel for a potato chip. Anyway, it may not seem important to you, but it’s important to them. After all, socialization, negotiation, and sharing are an important part of growing up. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes and sections. Put in a bunch of sharable baby carrots, raisins, or animal crackers. Provide finger foods like cut up fruit, “baby sandwiches” and wheel-shaped pasta salads. Construct a “make your own” taco or pizza so that your children can put together their own concoction (while you still know that the food isn’t processed and fake). Give them things to dunk and dip, roll, or smoosh together.

(5) A little can go a long way: I mean this is 2 ways. First, many children don’t eat a whole lot at lunch. Don’t overwhelm them with huge servings. Instead, give them little things that are nutritious and fun. Secondly, you may not want them snacking on huge donuts and candy bars, but you can provide them with a carefully chosen small sweet that will keep them from eying their friend’s HoHo.

(6) Get them to help pack the lunch: Again, when children are involved, they take more ownership and are more likely to eat what’s packed. Get them to scoop their trail mix into a container or help you cut out stars and hearts into their sandwiches. Get them to get the peanut butter out of the fridge and pick which fruit they want to go into their fruit salad for lunch. If they want fruit and Jell-O, have them help you make it.

(7) Provide them with some love: Let your kids know you’re thinking about them even when they’re at school. You can slip a note of love into their lunch box and tell them what special thing you’re going to do after school. You can put a holiday card or special sticker in there on Valentine’s Day or the first day of spring. Why not put a funny joke in their lunch box or little cartoon? Your child will love you for it!

It takes some imagination and at first, some additional time, however, it’s certainly worth it. It allows your children to get the nutrition they need to pay attention in school and feel their best. And of course, that give all of us piece of mind.

Imagination Playground: The Vital Role of Play in a Child’s Life

Play is an important part of a child’s development. We all have seen the traditional “monkey bars,” swings, and jungle gyms. But when architect, David Rockwell, came up with a concept for a playground—he thought outside of the box.

According to yesterday’s New York Times:

Instead of monkey bars and jungle gyms, there are blue and white blocks to stack into high walls or to connect as sluices and walkways. In place of swing sets and seesaws, there are wheelbarrows and rolling carts to move materials about. And while there are still the familiar elements of sand and water, they are no longer there to be shoveled and splashed so much as turned into landscapes of fanciful design.

Believe it or not— “Imagination Playground,” is taking the place of an empty parking lot near the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. It’s purpose to provide a more engaging space for children. What a great way to use vacant space!

A unique child-centric downtown oasis, Imagination Playground combines sand, water, “loose parts” and play associates to encourage a constantly changing environment where children can play, dream and build. Activity is mixed with creativity by providing diverse materials to promote unstructured “free play.”

Play is essential for:

Physical Development: Play helps with the development of gross motor and fine motor skills. It also helps children become aware of the strength, power, and capabilities of their bodies. They become more self assured in these competencies and can then build on them by engaging in more challenging activities and feats. Such confidence is essential in helping the child succeed in all areas of life.

Social and Emotional Development: Everyone has a natural tendency to want to belong to a group. Play allows children to develop many social skills that are necessary for future success. For example, play allows children to try out new skills when the stakes aren’t high. They can put what they’re learning about values and character into action. In addition, it allows them to understand how to negotiate, share, take opposing perspectives, assert themselves, and compromise.

At all levels of development, play enables children to feel comfortable and in control of their feelings by: 1) allowing the expression of unacceptable feelings in acceptable ways and 2) providing the opportunity to work through conflicting feelings.

Cognitive Development: Play helps to exercise the brain! Studies show that play can assist in the development of planning, attention, attitude, creativity, memory, and perspective-taking. It can also stimulate the imagination and creative thinking. When playing with others, children can develop their language and communication skills as well. Kids learn when they’re having fun!

Some scientists are very concerned that because children spend their time differently than they did say, 70 years ago, children’s ability to self-regulate is also quite different.

A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. “Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” says Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

Why is self regulation so important?

During make-believe, children can begin a private dialog with themselves in which they use their brains to decide what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. If you think about it, we all rely on this private speech, even as adults, to figure out how to if, when, and how to proceed when we are faced with challenges.

Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity…self-regulation improves.

Laura Berk, professor of psychology at Illinois State University.

Examples of Different Kinds of Play:

Sensorimotor Play: Coined by Piaget, infants and toddlers experiment with motor movement and body sensations with both object and people. Examples: Grasping a toy, rolling a ball,

Pretend Play: In pretend play, children can carry out plans, take on different roles, transform objects, express feelings and ideas, and represent experience symbolically. Examples: Playing “house,” and “flying to the moon.”

Games with Rules: This is typically a very organized form of playing. It usually involves “teams” or different sides, competition, and agreed-upon ways of winning and playing the game. Examples: Tag, baseball, hide and seek.

What can we do to encourage play?

(1) Read stories together: Books provide opportunities for language development, imagination of characters, and examples of characters that use self regulation and values to make decisions and follow through.

(2) Encourage children to talk to themselves: This practice will help children rely on their own opinions and gut reactions when it comes to figuring out how to proceed.

(3) Cook, sew, or build together: These activities provide directions as well as chances to make something “their own.”

(4) Provide props and a dress-up box: These items are great for imaginative play. You can provide realistic prompts as well as symbolic props that will help to get the mind going.

(5) Get them into programs that provide games as well as instruction: Great after-school programs that provide both time for structure as well as games where instructions are provided help children to learn how to win and lose graciously—as well as how to follow rules.

(6) Provide free time without the TV and Video Games: Children need time to play without the help of a computer or TV set. Encourage children to use their imagination or play with friends instead of simply enjoying passive recreation.

The most important thing is to have fun and remember—play is important. While people used to say, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” we now know that the role of play is a lot more crucial to development. So go out and have a good time!

Related articles:

Threat of Mulch Keeps Kids Inside? No Playground for Kids in Child Care

Grow Up! Treating Children Like Little Adults

Teaching Children How to Manage Money: 5 Tips for Savvy Parents


Five Ways to Teach Your Children about the Value of Money

By Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

(Teach your children self reliance and responsibility!)

When I was about 5 years old, my father took me down to the corner store so that he could buy a newspaper for himself and a pack of gum for me. When we exited the store, there was a path of coins in a neat little line in front of me leading to the parking lot. I was so excited! I started picking up pennies and nickels and dimes, oh my! My father smiled at my enthusiasm and said, “You know if you put that money away and add to it each time you receive more of it, sooner or later, you’ll have your very own money tree. Then you’ll be able to buy all sorts of special things with it!”

That was my first experience with money and it stuck with me. It taught me that money was plentiful and that over time it could reap great gifts. I began looking for ways to find and make more of it. My father started giving me an allowance. Additional compensation was provided when I would do extra chores.

I became a bona fide saver. In fact, whenever anyone in the family needed money, they would come to me! I kept my money in a bright yellow cash box. I used to find little “I owe you” notes in it from my Mom and brothers when they needed a few dollars.

Not everyone has such a happy give-and-take relationship with money. A few years ago, I became friendly with a woman who had a very different experience. Her parents died when she was just a child and she was left to live with her older siblings. Her first memory of money was of rummaging through the couch cushions for any loose change that the family could use to buy groceries. It taught her that money was scarce and that she would never be able to secure enough to live comfortably.

Our first experiences with finances, whether good or bad, are very important to our future relationships with money. Luckily, we can control some of these experiences with our own children. By taking the time to include them in some appropriate financial decisions while teaching them the value of money in an enjoyable manner (without dictating or commanding compliance), your children will be well on their way to cultivating a healthy relationship with dollars and cents.

(1) Be a financial role model: You can show your children how you save and spend money in several ways. Bring them to the bank when you make a deposit or an investment. Use coupons at the grocery store. Demonstrate how you choose one product over a similar, yet more expensive one, so that you stretch your dollar more effectively. And of course, show your children how, because you saved, you can now purchase something special that you would not have been able to afford had you been more careless with money.

(2) Discuss money and financial choices: This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. When you explain your decisions and even ask your child to join in on the conversation when you are choosing between saving and spending, you are shaping your child’s understanding of money. Speak out loud when you bring your children to the grocery store and ask them to participate in finding “the cereal that is on sale” or the “juice shown in the coupon we clipped from the paper.” You can also allow them to hold the coupons and hand the money to the cashier—further instilling that it takes money to buy “things.”

(3) Set spending limits: Discuss how much you can spend at the store, or, if your children are going to be using their allowance, discuss how much they want to budget for a particular item or event. This will help you and your children stick to the plan while still having fun. Be firm with these spending limits. Otherwise, you will be teaching your children that by simply whining or begging, they will get more money. This is not the way life is, so why set the precedent?

(4) Allow children to manage money: Allowance can sometimes be controversial. However, it is a great way for children to learn how to manage money within safe parameters. By encouraging them to make their own decisions about money and deal with the benefits of good choices and the consequences of poor ones, they will learn to be more responsible with saving and spending. For example, if a child blows all his savings on a toy and then does not have enough to go to the movies, well, that’s learning for you! Think of it this way, wouldn’t you rather that your children learn these valuable lessons now rather than waiting and having them learn them as adults when the rent check bounces?

(5) Teach your children to divide up their money: Children should learn at an early age that all money should not go in one big spending pot. Decide on a percentage of money that each member of your family will give to charity each year (usually 10% of earnings). Your children will take great pride in choosing which type of charity they want to support. In addition, provide money jars or piggy banks for (a) money that can be spent now; (b) money for short to medium term savings and goals; and (c) money for long term savings, goals and investing. With very young children, leave all of these piggy banks in the child’s room so that the children get a very hands-on understanding of money. As children get older, help them open a bank account and look for appropriate ways to invest their “long term savings” for maximum return.

Understanding the power of money takes time and tolerance. Mistakes are bound to happen. After all, they are part of the learning process! The important things to remember are to be consistent with limits, encouraging of saving and responsible spending and patient with your children’s decisions—even if they are not the best choices in the long run. How else are they going to learn that if they want to grow money trees, they better get to planting, maintaining, and cultivating the seed?

Have a Powerful Day!


This article was originally published in Bay State Parent Magazine

Some of Dr. Robyn’s other articles that teach self reliance and responsibility feature (1) Learning how to my own tie shoes; (2) Learning how to do the laundry; and (3) learning how to pack my own bag

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a Massachusetts-based child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used worldwide. Known as “The Character Queen,” she is also a success coach for parents, adolescents, and educators, who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She is a writer and professional speaker who presents to PTAs, schools, parents, and organizations that focus on children or families. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar at your child’s school or at your business? Go to her website or her Powerful Parenting Blog for more information.

You can do it! 7 Ways to Teach Your Children Self Reliance and Responsibility


There has been a lot of talk over the last year about “helicopter parents,” parents who hover over their children and swoop in before or at the slightest hint of discomfort, challenge, or threat of failure. Powerful parents know that while they want their children to succeed, there is great value in making mistakes and learning from them.

It’s developmentally appropriate for children to become more and more independent, self reliant and responsible as they age. It can be challenging for parents to know when to step back and let their children try something on their own. After all, from the time their children were babies, parents have spent years meeting many to all of their child’s needs. Striking a balance between allowing your children to do tasks for themselves and helping them when they seem to need or want is a talent of very powerful parents. This balance allows their children to thrive because they feel more confident in themselves while still feeling supported and properly mentored.

How can we instill self reliance and responsibility into our children?

(1) Allow your children to make some decisions: Even young children can make sound decisions if you give them a few select choices. Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt? Would you like a peanut butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich? As children get older, you can allow them to make more important decisions with little to no guidance. They can determine which activities in which they would like to engage, if they need a tutor for math, and which friends they’d like to spend time with each day without needing much, if any, input from parents. While it’s tempting to make these kinds of decisions for your older children, they need to learn from their own mistakes and stand on their own two feet—after all, their decisions are often correct!

(2) Encourage your children to try tasks on their own: While it’s often quicker and more skillfully done when we do it for them, children need to engage in tasks on their own if they’re ever going to learn how to do them well. Laundry, shoe-tying, packing their own bags, making the bed, and are great places to start. Older children can handle more and should! Learning how to cook and becoming solely responsible for their own homework are tasks older children should master. When children express a desire to engage in a task, if it’s safe, be sure to let them participate. Again, while it may not be done as well as if you had done it yourself, praise the effort and the initiative and allow your children to try it again next time. They will surely get better and better with each effort, mistake, and success.

(3) Model responsibility and self reliance: Parents have many responsibilities—let your child see them and hear about them! Say out loud; “This screw seems a little loose, I’ll go get the screwdriver and tighten it” or “I have to plan our weekly menu for dinner; let’s see…Monday night we’ll have…” When children see you making decisions, taking initiative, and displaying self reliant behaviors, they will engage in similar behavior. Note: Be careful, parents! If you and your spouse are used to dividing up the labor, especially if they’re divided down traditional gender lines, your children may assume that “girls can’t do this” or “boys shouldn’t do that.” Show your boys that a girl can change a lightbulb and fix the flusher on the toilet and boys can clean the dishes and do laundry!

(4) Be your child’s coach rather than his sage: When your child asks you questions about how to do something or what to do in a certain situation, sometimes asking questions is more important than providing answers. “What do you think you should do? How would you feel if you chose X? What would happen if you did Y instead?” These questions can unlock the answers in your own child’s brain so the next time he’s in a similar situation he’ll be able to call on his own experience and judgment to make a decision.

(5) Be a good support system: Sometimes this means cheering them on from the sidelines and other times it means encouraging them to try again. Of course, when children truly need your help, they should know that they can count on you. If you teach them to ask for help when they really need it (when something seems unsafe or too challenging), they should know that you will be there to assist them. When children know they can count on you when they’re really in need, they’ll feel more secure about taking healthy risks and making mistakes.

(6) Provide them with responsibilities: Chores are great for teaching children how to be self reliant as well as how to work as a team. Take some time to teach your children how to do each chore properly. You can even work on a checklist together which helps to break down the task into easy, age-appropriate chunks. For example, (1) Take the clothes out of the dryer, (2) Separate the clothes by family member, (3) Match up all the socks…and so on. Providing responsibilities which allow the children to show self reliance and responsibility will indeed build self reliance and responsibility.

(7) Encourage healthy risk-taking: Assure your children that making mistakes is OK. The most important thing is that s/he tries! Most things are not done perfectly the first time—even when you’re an adult. It doesn’t mean “the end of the world” and there is no reason to be embarrassed. It can be tough to watch our children make mistakes. We may want to rush to their aid to shield them from impending failure or disappointment. However, when parents do this, they rob their children of some very powerful tools; perseverance, confidence, and yes, self reliance.

Your words and your encouragement have far-reaching affects. My mother always used to sing to me whenever I fell down; “just pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again!” I still hear it in my head when I’ve made a blunder.

Your children are relying on you to teach them how to approach the world. Sometimes that means watching and learning from you and other times, that means watching and encouraging them to figure it out on their own.

Here’s to your children’s powerful successes!


Like the article? Please press the Digg button to the right to help us better help you.

Are your Children Showing Self Reliance at School and Home?


    Because it’s Self Reliance month for Powerful Words, it’s important that we provide children with opportunities to show self reliance at school, at home, and out in the community. Perhaps your children have been relying on you (or their teachers?) to do some things that they can do on their own. What are these things?

    Are they able to:

    • Pack their own bags for class?
    • Remember all their equipment?
    • Do their own chores?
    • Do their own Powerful Words projects?
    • Hand in their Powerful Words projects?
    • Hang up their own jackets?
    • Tie their own shoes?
    • Get ready for your class on their own?
    • Do their homework?
    • Stay quiet before class without being reminded?
    • Work on their skills in class responsibly even when your back is turned?
    • Lead the class in stretching or skills?
    • Practice for class, a test, or an event?
    • Clean up after themselves?
    • Entertain themselves?
    • Remember all their stuff when they leave their school

    Encourage your children to take some time to ask themselves; “how have I shown self reliance today?” It’s this kind of focus and questioning that will help them to take a hard look at their behaviors, take some risks, make some changes, and become more self reliant in the long run. In addition, talk to your children about self-reliance and let them know how you’ve shown self-reliance today.

    We’d love to hear how your children are showing self reliance at school, home, and out in the community. Tell us about it!


    1. I’m not a teacher anymore. (I used to be a pre-school teacher long ago) But as a parent, I believe my most important job is to send out responsible, self-reliant adults in to the world. I am always focusing on teaching my kids to do things for themselves. They get so much more self esteem this way then when I do it for them.

    2. Thank you for your comment, Wendy. Yes, I believe you are quite right that it is our responsibility to send self reliant adults into the world. It may seem counterintuitive, but that responsibility means that we need to step aside and allow children to try to do things on their own, make mistakes, fall down, and get back up. People often don’t realize that while it may be faster and easier if we do things for our children and students, we are robbing them of one of the world’s most valued resources; self confidence.

    Self Reliance: 10 Parts of Teaching Your Children How to Do the Laundry


    Self Reliance: Teaching Children How to Do Laundry

    Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

    Since all of our Powerful Words schools and families are focusing on Self Reliance this month, it seems like it would be a good time for children to learn how to do some things on their own. We already talked about learning how to tie their own shoes and pack their own bags, so how about we focus on how to teach children to do the laundry?

    As parents, we often get in the habit of doing many things for our children. After all, it started out that we needed to do everything for them! However, even young children can help out with the laundry.

    Laundry is a skill that every young person, both boys and girls, should know how to do. We all want our children to grow into responsible adults—and responsible adults do laundry! Perhaps you might be worried that your child will ruin a piece of clothing or get detergent all over the floor, but wouldn’t you rather make mistakes now while you’re there than when he’s older and away from home?

    Practicing this skill as a child, while you’re around to supervise, is a great way for your children to build their confidence around the task and learn the right way to do it. Then, when they go off to do it themselves, they’ll be prepared.

    Where should you start? You can teach them how to…

    (1) Sort their laundry: Young children can easily learn the rules of “colors,” “whites,” “darks,” linens, and towels.

    (2) Read labels: Tell your child that different types of clothes get treated in different types of ways. Does it say dry cleaning on the label? Then it goes to the dry cleaner. Does it say hand wash? Then it gets washed in the sink. Show them where to look and help them to understand what each direction means.

    (3) Prepare the laundry for washing: Children need to understand that it’s important to check pockets before throwing items into the wash, turn items with patterns or buttons inside out to prevent wear and tear, and judge whether a load is too big for one wash.

    (4) Work washing machine: Show them how to turn the knob to the appropriate setting and how much soap to put in as well. Be sure to teach them the dangers of using bleach and how to protect themselves and their clothes. If you would prefer that they don’t fumble with cups of soap, there are kid-friendly pre-packs that can be used. You can also teach them when to use the different temperatures, fabric softener, and stain stick.

    (5) Put in the clothes: We know that we can’t just dump in a load and have the washer work well. Teach your children how to create a balanced load by putting in clothes a piece or two at a time, alternating sides of the machine.

    (6) Hand wash: Show children how to fill up the sink and which detergent to use for hand cleaning. Then show them how to use their hands to clean the item as well as how to squeeze out the excess water without hurting the delicate garment.

    (7) Use the dryer: Show your children where the lint trap is and how to clean it before they load any wet clothes into the dryer. Then show them how to load the clothes into the dryer (shaking them out first to untwist or unwrinkled them). Be sure to remind them to check the label to make sure that the item can go into the dryer or if they need to be dried flat. You can also explain when to use the different dryer cycles and how much time is need to dry a batch of clothes. Finally, show them which knobs to use and how to turn them correctly and responsibly.

    (8 ) Hang clothes on a line or dry flat: Line drying can take some dexterity due to the clothes pins so it may be a difficult task for young children. However, a drying rack is perfect for young or school-age children. Teach your children how to smooth out the wrinkles and hang the clothes so that every part of the garment has air around it.

    (9) Fold laundry: My own mother started me on socks. It’s a great place to start. Teach children how to match up the socks, fold them together, or roll them into balls. Learning to fold towels and washcloths is also a great place to start because these items are easy. Show them how to fold shirts, sweaters, and pants neatly so that they don’t get wrinkled. You may even get them a folding board to teach them in a way that makes it easier and neater. Also, show them how to hang up dresses, dress, shirts, and dress pants, on a hanger and put them away in the closet.

    (10) Iron: This task should only be undertaken by a very responsible child. Most parents should wait until their child is a preteen before allowing them to use the iron. Show them how to turn the iron on and stress how hot it is once it is plugged in. Talk to them about keeping the iron moving so that clothes are not burned.

    When teaching children how to do something new, it’s important NOT to overwhelm them. Teach them one or two parts at a time and let them get comfortable with the task. Then you can show them something new.

    Not only will learning how to do the laundry help your children become more self reliant, more empowered and more knowledgeable about how to take care of themselves, it will also likely be a big help to you (over time) and provide you with some more quality time with your family.

    Happy Washing!