Two secrets to help kids get organized

“I lost my homework!  I did it though… really I did.”

“Tomorrow is spirit day and I can’t find my school shirt.”

“My project is due tomorrow and I haven’t even gotten started.”

Sound familiar?  The bane of every parent and teacher’s existence is helping kids develop organizational skills.  Like many social skills though, we often fail to specifically teach kids what to do.  Instead we give it a one shot mini-lecture and then  feel it should be obvious.

Doesn’t everyone know that you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to start a project?

How many times have you told your students to put their homework in their homework folder as soon as it is completed?

However, even as adults we often don’t model the skills that we think children should master.  Here is a strategy that will help parents, teachers and kids alike to be more organized:

Create bookends around your day

  • Begin your day with a daily focus-set your priorities for the day including a time frame for each.  This doesn’t mean on the way out the door you hurriedly remind your child that you will be picking them up early today for that dentist appointment. Instead you set aside a specific time each morning to review what is on tap for the day.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy but a checklist could be helpful.  Include things like:  special activities,  homework, encouragement for upcoming tasks and plans for after school.  As you review the calendar it  might sound something like this:
    • Okay John, today is Tuesday so that means you take your tennis shoes for PE. Do you have your math homework in your backpack? Remember you have practice after school so we will go straight there.  You got a change of clothes? Great!  Have I forgotten anything?  Okay, do your best on that math test, I know you really studied hard.  Make it a great day!
    • Okay class, today is Tuesday and here are the highlights of our day:
      • We have PE first then we will visit the library.  Make sure you have any books that you need to return on your desktop.
      • Next we will have a math test
      • After lunch we will go straight outside for recess and then come in for reading groups  followed by health and social studies.  Any questions?
  • End your day with a review and preparation for the next day.  List things that are incomplete.  Organize and clean up your work area so that you begin fresh.  Review your calendar and prepare any items that you need for the next day so you can get off to a great start.  As you review the calendar or an agenda it might sound like this:
    • Okay John, before you go to bed let’s review for tomorrow.  You’ve got your clothes out for tomorrow, right?  It’s going to be cold so plan to wear your jacket.  Is your homework in your book bag?  Did you make your lunch or are you buying lunch tomorrow at school? 
    • Okay class, has everyone copied your homework in your agenda?  Do you have your math book so you can do your homework?  Be sure to study your review sheet for your health test tomorrow.  Tomorrow is PE so wear tennis shoes.

Notice that you are training students in how to plan for their day but this requires some organization on your part as well! This is not meant to be a lengthy process that takes more than a few minutes.  Use visuals to help in tracking such as a calendar, an agenda, checklists etc.  Once you have established the habit you may not even have to review each of the different parts but simply ask if they have completed their preparation for the next day.  Best wishes for an organized new year.

Related Articles:

Create success with organizational skills

Raising a happy child

How to create an intentional year


Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

It’s time to catch the school bus and Wyatt can’t find anything.  Where is his backpack?  his lunch money? Wyatt is about to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of being organized and the benefits of planning ahead.  This adorable story offers simple helpful ideas that kids and parents can use to make life less stressful and more fun.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Being Organized


What to do when kids argue

“I had it first… it’s mine!”

“I want the green one… you can have the blue one.”

“No the green one is bigger… you always get the biggest one.”

“You always get your way… it’s my turn to go first.”

Sound familiar?  Last night I was teaching a parent class at a local elementary school and after the class a father came up to me and asked me  what to do about his kids arguing.  He says that his kids just pick on each other all the time and it really gets on his wife’s nerves. I totally sympathize.  After all, I can remember when my daughters were younger and I just wanted everyone to get along!  Why do kids have to argue all the time?

Here are my suggestions for solving those annoying arguments that get on your last nerve…

  • Check your emotions and look at the situation objectively:  Kids provide enough drama for any argument, make sure that you aren’t adding to it.  I know it’s difficult because kids seem to fuss and argue when they are tired and irritable which is probably the same time that you are tired and irritable.  However, if you can remain calm and objective it will greatly help the overall situation.  Adding your own emotions into the mix will only cause things to escalate.
  • Change your perspective-instead of seeing arguments as something to be avoided, re-frame them as an opportunity for learning and teaching.  I used to tell my kids when they argued that I was glad to see that they were learning how to get along with difficult people because it sure would come in handy when they got to be adults.  I know it sounds crazy, but it is true.  Disagreements with siblings are great training grounds for how to handle disagreements later in life with adults.
  • Use the opportunity to teach children how to solve problems, not avoid them– When we tell kids to knock it off, stop fussing or else, separate and go to your room until you can get along and any one of a number of other ultimatums, we might be eliminating the problem for the moment but are we really teaching kids what to do when they disagree with someone?  Do those options work well for you as an adult when you have a disagreement with a co-worker or spouse?  Instead help kids determine exactly what the problem is and then identify the options that they have for solving it.  For example:  You both want the green one and there is only one green one.  You could:
    • Take turns, I get the green one now while you get it at another specified time
    • Use chance to determine who gets it;  roll the dice, pick a number between 1-10 etc.
    • Use some outside factor to decide:  I get the green one because I’m older, I earned it by doing extra chores, it matches my eyes, I get to decide on even days and you get to pick on odd days.
    • You get the idea…
  • Encourage a dialogue- Help kids learn to talk to each other in ways that identifies the problem and works on solving it rather than name calling, blaming or relying on adults to solve disagreements-
    • “Sally what do you need to say to George that could make the situation better?”
    • “George what can you say or do that would show that you are trying to solve the problem?
  • Establish a system for problem solving- Remind kids what they did the last time that solved a similar problem.  Focus on solutions not problems.
    • “Suzy, I remember last week you had a disagreement over who got to go first.  Do you remember how you solved that problem?  Would that work this time?”

Keep in mind that even negative situations are opportunities for all of us to grow and learn.  When you approach disagreements as something that can be resolved rather than something that needs to be eliminated, you will find that children will take on a similar perspective.  While arguments may not disappear, children will instead have the tools necessary to resolve conflicts.  This is a lesson that will serve them well through out their lives.

Related posts:

Five Ways to Turn Sibling Rivalry Around

Tackling the Sharing Dilemma

7 Secrets to Teach your Child Cooperation


Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)




Surprising research about praise

What a great job you did!

You aced this test, you are so smart!

The home run you hit saved the day!  You are the best hitter on the team!

In this age of positivism, affirmations and intentions, what could possibly be wrong with praising a child?  Turns out a lot… but the problem isn’t exactly praise.  The problem is the type of praise, what we are focusing on and the perception that it creates in the child.  The consequences of praise are reported in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success and I guarantee that it will change forever how you interact with the children in your life.

Here’s what she discovered:

  • When we praise children for their ability (great job, intelligence, athletic ability etc) we set them up for a fixed mindset.  They believe that they accomplished something great because of their inherent ability and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they feel they must perform equally well.  Consequently they are always concerned about perfect performance and measuring up.  They often lack confidence and shy away from situations that are hard because they are afraid of exposing their deficits and calling into question their talent or ability.
  • When we praise children for their effort, we set them up for a growth mindset. They believe that they accomplished something because of their effort and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they are open to seeing it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.  Whether they are successful or not, they are willing to take action and learn from the results.  Here are some examples:
    • This report is amazing.  I can tell you put in a lot of time in research.
    • You made an A on the test!  I can tell you really studied hard.
    • Your home run saved the day.  Looks like all that time practicing paid off.

What does this mean for parents and educators?

For most of us it means that we need to make a shift from focusing on labeling children, even with positive labels like gifted, smart or talented.  Labels and praising kids for their ability has been clearly shown in Dweck’s research to handicap the child for the future by creating a fixed mindset.  On the other hand, praise that identifies effort and specific methods of being successful, creates a growth mindset and prepares children for the many challenges and new situations they will face.  It is the equivalent of inoculating children for the inevitable disappointments they will encounter while providing the confidence to move forward with new challenges.

Related posts:

3 surprising things not to say to kids

one phrase to change the entitlement mindset

the secret sauce for a happy child


 Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt is always wondering about something and lately it is how to get his friend, Max to change his bossy ways.  What can he do?  Join Wyatt as he considers some rather unusual options until he finally discovers that a heart to heart talk with Max can create a new friendship with an old friend. Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_Manners_Kindle

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Good Manners


The growth mindset and success

Which statement describes what you believe:?

  1. You can learn new things but you really can’t change your IQ very much.  It is just something that is just part of your DNA.
  2. You can not only learn new things but substantially change how intelligent you are.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck distinguishes between two very different mindsets that she discovered among students in her research.  She describes them like this:

The fixed mindset is one where the student believes that their personality, their intelligence, ability or skill is unchangeable.  Consequently, if you believe in the fixed mindset and do well in school you were obviously born smart and without too much effort you will ace the next test and ultimately the class.  If you were born with athletic ability, you will be an asset to the team and while you will benefit from training you’ve got what it takes to be a star.  The flip side of this mindset is the belief that if you were born without the necessary intelligence or athletic ability, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you will not be successful or attain your goals.  Students with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges and situations that seem too hard.  They tend to avoid failure by sticking to things that they know they can master easily.

The growth mindset is one where a student believes that their personality, intelligence, ability or skill is changeable and with focused effort and training they can change the outcome.  If you are failing algebra class, you can redouble your efforts, learn the necessary material and pass the class.  If you aren’t the best athlete on your team, you can train and develop the necessary skill you need to become a top notch team player. Students with growth mindsets tend to embrace challenges. Rather than wallow in failure or give up when the going gets tough, they focus instead on the process necessary to attain the goal.

While Dweck distinguishes between the two separate mindsets, she is quick to point out that they frequently overlap.  A student may believe that they are just plain dumb in math and can’t master it, while at the same time believing that with enough effort and practice they can become the next Michael Jordan.  The important piece of the equation is recognizing the mindset and teaching children not just how to cope with failure but how to think about  failure as a learning process and a stepping stone to a goal.

Changing Fixed to Growth

Here’s how we as adults can  help children develop a growth mindset, (yes even our mindset can be changed)…

  • Help children recognize that learning is truly a life long process.  We never arrive at the final destination.  No matter how advanced your knowledge of math, or technology or a sport, there is always more to learn.  That is why the great athletes still have coaches.
  • Help children re-frame failure and disappointing results as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Encourage them to ask “What can I learn from this?” and “Where is the opportunity in this?” rather than focus on comparing themselves to others’ results and abilities.
  • Help children measure growth and success by comparing their current abilities with where they started rather than comparing their current ability with the end result or someone else.  While goals help us chart the course, it is not a good yardstick for achievement.

Finally, one of the best ways to influence the children in your life is by recognizing and if necessary, changing your own mindset from fixed to growth.  Make sure you are modeling and reinforcing a growth mindset in all you do.

Related posts

Creating a growth mindset in kids

Helping kids find their voice

Why failing first leads to success

Check out how Wyatt’s Grandmother helps him develop a growth mindset…

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)


The secret sauce to setting and achieving goals


What does the child in your life wish for in the new year?

  1. score a winning run for their baseball team?
  2. make an A in algebra?
  3. make a new friend?
  4. a pony?

As we look toward the new year, it is always a good time to teach children about goal setting and goal achievement.  This is moving beyond merely writing a resolution, although that can be a useful first step.  A goal is a resolution or a dream attached to an action plan and time table.  It is dreaming on steroids and a useful tool in every child’s motivational toolkit.

Step 1: Write the goal

The first step is to teach children to have a goal and to write it down.  Research has shown that just having a goal is useful, but writing it down increases the chance of success by a huge margin.  Teach children to write goals that are SMART:

Specific:  Instead of “make good grades” write “make an A in algebra”

Measurable: Instead of “run faster in track club” write “run a mile in X minutes”

Attainable:  Consider the starting point.  It will be hard to make an A in algebra if you are currently failing.  “Raise grade to a C or passing” might be more attainable

Realistic:  Goals should be meaningful as well as possible.  Setting a goal of running a race in a certain amount of time is useful if the student can stretch to meet the goal and has a desire to do so.  Setting a goal of getting a pony in one year might be unrealistic but saving money to take riding lessons may be reasonable and doable.

Timely:  An often neglected and important aspect of a goal is a deadline or point in time at which it can be expected that the goal will be accomplished.  Some examples of a time frame might be: Run a race in X minutes by the end of track season.  Save enough money to take riding lessons in 6 months.

Step 2:  Create an action plan

Too often we teach goal setting without teaching what to do after the goal is set.  We expect that it should be obvious.  It’s not… as evidenced by the number of students who not only fail to reach their goals but don’t get out of the starting gate.  Here’s some steps to make goals achievable.

Once you’ve created a SMART goal, create an action plan that is SMART.

Specific:  What will you do to reach the goal?  For example:  Study algebra by reviewing the day’s lesson and completing homework.

Measurable:  When and how often? For example:  Study algebra daily for at least 30 minutes.

Attainable:  Make sure the action plan is consistent with other obligations and lifestyle. Study Monday-Friday for 30 minutes daily may be much easier than Study 4 hours on Saturday.  Make sure the goal is a stretch but not so much of a stretch as to be a recipe for failure.

Review:  Build in a review process periodically to make sure the action plan is working. Create a method of tracking test scores or running times and determine progress.

Tweak:  Based on the review process make changes to the plan as necessary. For example, maybe you need to study 1 hour on the night before a test.  Maybe the day before a race is a rest day not a practice day. Maybe you need to do some extra chores to earn more money to save.

Children who learn to set goals and follow up with an action plan, develop into hopeful forward-looking children.  Despite personal doubts or fears, they are willing to tackle situations that may be hard and difficult. They are children who recognize their own ability to be successful and create change in the world.

Related posts:

Four Leadership Lessons

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How to Create an Intentional Year


Start the new year off right with:

Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games

Just for you!  Here are activities, lesson plans, discussion questions, coloring sheets, word search puzzles and games for each of the six Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books.  Over 75 pages of ideas so that you can create lessons on cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills to quickly extend and incorporate the Wyatt stories.





Teach girls bravery not perfection

Reshma Saujani is a woman with a mission.  She is on a campaign to change the way that we socialize young girls. Her premise is this: girls are taught to be perfect, while boys are taught to be brave.  This immediately resonated with me for two reasons:

  • As a young girl, I can think of numerous times when I was taught to be perfect; to do the right thing, follow the rules and make good grades.  I received much encouragement and affirmation for efforts in that direction.  I can’t think of a single time that I was taught to be brave and take a risk.
  • In my coaching business I work with a lot of women with big dreams for the future. What usually holds them back?  Certainly not talent or ability.  Almost always it is the fear that they won’t get it right.  They will often fail to make changes for fear that they will make the wrong decision and go down the wrong path… even though they know that the path they are on now is not a good fit.

How does this happen? 

Reshma discovered a similar thing.  In her effort to challenge more young women to tackle careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), she realized that part of the problem was that young girls were not exposed to role models of women who followed careers in these areas.  When she began intentionally introducing them to successful women in STEM careers, she discovered that was only part of the problem.

As she began opening mental and experiential doorways to these young girls, she discovered that these young girls often did not choose STEM careers because they ran the risk of being wrong.  In other words, they were not willing to take imperfect actions and make mistakes.  Instead they gravitated toward careers that they knew they could be good, even perfect in.  Girls, Rashem says, are socialized to do the right thing, make others proud and follow the rules.  Boys on the other hand are socialized to take risks, play hard and take failure in stride as a way to get ahead. By the time they are adults, boys have been rewarded repeatedly for taking risks and they are accustomed to it.  Girls on the other hand view risk as something to be avoided.

Research supports Reshma’s premise.  In a study by Carol Dweck, the psychologist found a decided difference between 5th grade girls and boys when given challenging work.  The higher the IQ, the more likely the girls were to give up.  Boys on the other hand, viewed the work as something to be overcome and persisted in solving problems.  Another way bravery vs perfection is demonstrated is in application for employment.  Men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the job qualifications.  Women on the other hand will apply only if they meet 100% of the job qualifications.

Want to learn more?  Here is Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk on teaching girls bravery, not perfection:

How can you help?

As parents and educators we have the ability to change this mindset among young girls. For years we have been concerned that  girls do not maximize their abilities, but we have focused on increasing self-esteem through praise and affirmation.  While this is important, what if its possible that we are focusing on the wrong characteristic?

Here are some ways that you can teach girls (and boys) to be brave:

  • Encourage imperfect action instead of perfect results— Much of problem solving and critical thinking is not about getting the right answer.  It is about trial and error. It is about research and development.  Children who learn to value this above perfect solutions will eventually get the desired result. You can do this by sharing your own failures and how you coped with them.   As Thomas Edison said about inventing the light bulb, ” I haven’t failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Praise specific effort not generalities–It is much more effective and helpful to say, “You really worked hard studying for that test.” than to say, “You made an A?  You are so smart!”  When you affirm effort, you help a student prepare for the future and learn strategies.  Effort is something the child has control over.  Being smart on the other hand is more something that is inherited.  And what does the alternative mean?  If they fail the next test, are they no longer smart?
  • Recognize and encourage brave actions–Foster brave actions by re-framing difficulties as challenges.  Don’t protect children from failure.  Instead teach them how to cope with it rather than giving up.  Teach children how to take calculated risks.

Related Posts:

Before there is grit, there is pain

The secret to helping students develop grit

Teaching a child persistence


Wyatt Learns about Giving

It’s almost Christmas and Wyatt the Wonder Dog is wondering how long he will have to wait until the big day and what gifts he will get.  His mother however, has a more important question, “What will you give for Christmas?”  Join Wyatt as he learns a valuable lesson about how anyone can be generous and giving at Christmas and all through the year. Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_for_Kindle
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Giving