Ask Dr. Robyn Silverman: How can I teach my child citizenship?

Dr. Robyn Answers one Powerful Parent’s Question about Citizenship

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’ve seen many of my friends’ children become very self centered as they get older.  I don’t want that to happen to my children who are still young at ages 4 and 6.  What are some ways to get my children thinking about others besides themselves? –Carolyn G, Danbury, CT

The Powerful Word of the Month is Citizenship— so this question about “thinking of others,” provided by one of our Powerful Parents,, Carolyn G, is coming at a great time! Have any of your own questions about citizenship, charity, empathy, or thinking of others? Send them in! Talk to your Powerful Words instructors too– I’m sure they’ll have lots of ideas that you can try as well.

Separation Anxiety: Guidelines to Say Goodbye to Clingy Kids?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’m sure you hear a lot about separation anxiety around back to school time. It’s only July and I’m already dreading “back to school” because my child will be going to kindergarten.  With my first child, we had quite a time with getting him comfortable enough to go into his classroom and leave my side for a lot of the school year.  He’s what you call a “clingy kid.” Well, I wound up staying for way longer than I should. I’m sure I made some mistakes and I know this is classic separation anxiety.  Can you give me a quick was to say good-bye that we  can follow so we don’t make the same mistakes twice?

–Laura, Mom of Max and Julia, New Brunswick NJ

Thanks for your question, Laura!

I actually spoke about this with Parents Magazine in the July 2008 issue.  Separation anxiety is seen in many children to varying degrees.  It can come in the form of crying, whining, clinging, following, silence, withdrawal, or hiding behind a parent.

First, remember, that your daughter is not your son.  She may respond completely differently than you other child did in the same circumstance.  In this case, it’s important not to generalize and “pre-label” your daughter!

Second, there are some things you can do before school that can ease the transition.  Typically the problem of separation anxiety on the first days of school are two-fold—your child is uncomfortable being separated by you but she is also uncomfortable about what’s unfamiliar to her as well.

You can do something about that. Allow her to see her classroom, meet the teacher, and connect with some classmates before the first day of school.  Play in the school playground, walk the halls, and meet the principal.  Essentially, make the unfamiliar, familiar.  I talk more about these kinds of tips in my interview with www.education.com. I will notify our powerful parents when the articles come out.  In addition, I will be doing some tele-seminars on easing the transition back to school which I will let you know about shortly.

In addition, September’s Powerful Word of the month is courage– so get a jump on talking about courage in your household! Your Powerful Words school will help support these messages of courage as the instructors go through September’s Powerful Words curriculum.

Finally, if you are looking for a way to say good-bye without all the drama, please follow my ABCDE Goodbye Plan.  It’s simple and easy to remember—even though it’s sometimes hard to do!

Dr. Robyn Silverman’s ABCDE Goodbye to Separation Anxiety Plan:

(1) Be Affectionate—give a hug and a kiss, tell him how much you love him/her

(2) Be Brief– don’t linger because that will increase signs of separation anxiety

(3) Be Clear that you will be back and if you can, you can even tell them when (after the last school bell, when the clock says 3pm)

(4) Be Directive– “Go show your teacher what you brought from home!” “There’s your new friend, Emma—go say hello!” This gives your child something specific to do, gets her mind off the impending separation, and connects her with someone else in the room.

(5) And perhaps most importantly, EXIT. This doesn’t mean sneak out. You’ve said your goodbyes—wave- smile—and leave. Prolonging the inevitable makes the process harder for everyone.

In the mean time, you still have much of the summer to enjoy.  Talk positively about school and all the great things she will be able to do there.  And for your own sanity, talk positively to yourself—we all know the separation can be as hard on the parents as it is on the kids!

Best regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Modeling Compassion for Children: 4 Easy Hands-On Examples

We often hear that parents must serve as role models for their children. “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” Since the Powerful Word of the month is compassion for all Powerful Words Member Schools, it’s a great time to demonstrate ways to be compassionate at home. After all, when you show kindness, your children will learn kindness, and demonstrate kindness. When you show intolerance, impatience, and injustice, they will learn to behave in the same ways.

Here are some hands-on ways to understand how to pass on the ability to be empathic and compassionate to your children.

1. Compassion for Other Family Members

Scenario: It’s the weekend. Mom and Dad have been doing chores all day long. Both are tired. When they decide to call it quits for the day, Mom offers Dad something cold to drink and they sit together on the couch. Dad massages Mom’s feet after a long day.

Effect: Little Matt sees that both Mom and Dad feel for and understand each other. Little Matt learns what empathy and compassion look like. He also sees the positive effects such kindness has on others.

Teaching Moment: Talk to Matt about the importance of showing compassion to others in the family. Even if you’re tired or even if you’re a child, you can still show kindness is easy, helpful ways. These acts of kindness make people feel good inside– both the receiver and the giver!

Participation: Let Little Matt bring a cookie for Dad or let him massage Mom’s fingers.

These little ways of contributing to others will send the signal to Little Matt that he can make others feel good by showing compassion.

2. Compassion for Animals

Having pets in the home is a great way to teach children compassion.

Scenario: Polly the cockatoo is making a raucous in her stand. Mom checks her out, sees the seed bin empty, and the water cup empty. Mom cleans the containers, places some seeds and pours fresh water.

Effect: Little Matt understands that if pets need and deserve attention.

Learning moment: Explain to Little Matt that the bird became noisy because it couldn’t fend for itself and she was hungry. Just like when he was a little baby, and he was hungry, he would cry. Mom treats Polly as a member of the family who needs caring, Little Matt would treat Polly in the same way.

Participation: Assign Matt to be the “listener” for Polly’s cries or the “food checker” every other day. When able, he can put seeds and pour water into the container.

3. Compassion for Playmates

Scenario: While playing in your backyard, Little Matt’s friend, Tommy, bruises his knee and starts crying. Mom washes his bruises, blowing to keep the pain away, and placing antiseptic to make sure the bruise doesn’t get infected. All this time, Mom explains to Matt what she is doing.

Effect: Little Matt sees the pain in his friend and sees Mom try her best to take the pain away. Again, Little Matt learns empathy and compassion.

Learning Moment: When our friends get hurt, we need to stop what we’re doing and take care of the. That means helping them when they trip or getting an adult when they need some extra assistance.

Participation: Let Little Matt join in blowing the pain away. He can also get the band-aid out of the cabinet or the cotton-ball out of the container.

4. Compassion for Others

Scenario: One of the local charities called and they’re doing a big clothing drive. Mom and Dad start putting their old or unworn clothes into bags and marking them “Charity.” Matt’s Mom explains what she’s doing. Matt’s Dad tells his son that the clothes are going to people who need clothes but are unable to buy them.

Effect: Little Matt sees that his parents participate in giving to charity. He will likely want to join in and help the people in need as well.

Learning Moment: Matt’s parents teach him that there are many children that rely on nice little boys and girls for toys, clothes, and household goods. While he may not like his Sesame Street Comforter Set anymore and he may not read his “board books” anymore, other little boys and girls may love them! What can he give away to help others?

Participation: Matt can put his clothes from last year that he no longer wears, into a bag for charity. His parents tell him that his clothes are going to other little boys who will love everything Matt gives to them! They will be thinking, “thank you, Matt!”

Note: Many of our Powerful Words Member Schools do great charity drives in August! We’d love to have you join in and donate your unwanted clothes and household items!

Each time we take a moment to include our children in the process of giving to others and showing compassion to others, they learn valuable lessons about kindness and empathy that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Start early—start today!

Raising Good Sports in a World of Poor Sports: 6 Ways to Teach Children the Way to Play the Game


Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

The weather’s getting awfully nice here in New England. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the kids are outside playing sports. Which gets me thinking…

As adults, we often turn a blind eye to bad sportsmanship when it is glorified in the media. Heck, some adults join in on the banter. Quotes and questionable behavior from angry, volatile players and coaches is often excused in the heat of battle. We love our sports, we love our players, and secretly, we love a good rumble.

In 2004, around the time that Boston’s beloved Red Sox “reversed the curse” and won their first World Series in a long, long time, the fifth and six graders from Merriam Elementary School in Acton, Massachusetts took the spirit of the game into their own hands. They wrote to the owners of the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Commissioner of Baseball himself to see if they could inspire a truce for the benefit of the children:

“We think sportsmanship is very important. We have observed in the past few years that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry has gotten too extreme. Fans and players everywhere are getting too worked up about what’s just a game. Fights between two teams are not necessary because fans and players can get hurt. Our idea is that the Red Sox and Yankees should shake hands…If the players shake hands and don’t have violent fights, it will set a good example for kids of all ages who look up to them. All of us here play sports and at the end of each game we all shake hands. So we think that if younger kids show good sportsmanship, Major League players also should.”

And so the Merriam Handshake Project was born. It received national press and $10,000 in scholarship money to back outreach efforts to teach others about sportsmanship. Imagine that. Sometimes children need to remind us about what we are supposed to be teaching them.

Let’s get back to the basics and teach our kids to play fair. Huddle up; this is what we need to do:

Seize Teachable Moments: Whether you’re watching a game on TV or attending a school sporting event, you can always find “teachable moments” regarding sportsmanship. Ask your child her opinions of players who showboat and taunt their opponents, games that are riddled with technical fouls and penalties, and teams that argue and trash talk. What advise would your children give the players if they were in the position of coach? During these “teachable moments” ask open-ended questions and listen more than you talk.

Discuss it: If you see your child showing poor sportsmanship, make sure that you discuss his actions and address it accordingly. If your child is involved with an activity or team where poor sportsmanship is the norm, speak with the instructor or coach to make your concerns known. When poor sportsmanship is a constant part of the game, you may want to reevaluate your child’s participation in that particular activity or on that specific team.

Model Positive Sportsmanship: Remember, your child is watching you! Are you booing the other team? Yelling ugly things at the umpire or referee? On the flip side, are you offering complimentary words to the other team when they have a nice play? If you want your child to show good sportsmanship, take a look in the mirror, and make sure you are showing the behavior you want you child to emulate.

Be Their #1 Fan: When watching your children participate in a game or match, shout words of encouragement instead of directions or criticisms. Remember, your children look to you for praise—they have a coach that gives them directions and sometimes, unfortunately, dissatisfied teammates to provide criticisms!

Check your ego at the door: Many adults know that it is alright to lose if someone has tried their best. However, some still fail to display good sportsmanship. Researchers show that some parents are living vicariously through their children and therefore get wrapped up in winning the game or the competition. Along the same lines, some parents push their children into playing to win because they have unrealistic expectations of their child and feel that their child will be the next superstar. Challenge yourself to check your ego at the door—and remember that your child is in it for the fun and the positive experience!

And perhaps most importantly, if your child is frustrated by consistent poor displays of character among his athletic idols on TV or even among his own teammates while in competition, teach him to Take Action! This is when leaders are born. Upon reflection, you might wonder if the voice of a child could make any difference in sports world. But it can. Just ask the students of Merriam Elementary.

Webmaster’s Note: Portions of this article were originally printed in Bay State Parent Magazine, where Dr. Robyn is an expert parenting columnist.

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used worldwide. Known as “The Character Queen,” she’s the creator of the Powerful Words Character Development program used by top-notch professional after-school programs around the world. Dr. Robyn 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 schools, hospitals and organizations that focus on children or families. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar? Please get in touch at drrobynsblog (at symbol) gmail dot com