Positive Habits – 21 Days

21 days and Counting

It is the third week of January a time where some New Year Resolutions begin to wane and frustration about keeping commitments to gym workouts, conscious eating, and spending quality time with friends and family begins to elevate itself.  Adding to this  frustration is that old adage that if you can just stick it out for 21 days you can create a new habit and at about this time that adage seems to be the enemy as well.  The Good News is that the adage is a myth, so take a deep breath and move forward you still have time.

Yes, 21 days to create a habit is a popular myth that has survived a half century due to the many self-help authors, researchers, coaches, and speakers who have powerfully stated and wrote about the myth as a fact.  Although it sounds inviting to actually change a life in 21 days in reality the research on forming habits indicates that it takes between 18-254 days (average was 66 days) to form a habit(Lally et.al. 2010).  Naturally each person is unique in how and when a habit forms and if one misses a day or action it doesn’t nullify the ability to create the new habit – it is not a do or die situation, rather an evolutionary process .

Myths are sometimes hard to dispel yet, the 21 days change is attributed to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, who in 1950 observed that it took his patients on average 21 days to feel comfortable with their new look or to become acclimated to losing a limb or whichever modification they went through.  He wrote about his observations in a book that became a 1960 blockbuster, Psycho-Cybernetics, and those who came after decided to sell the observation as a fact.  Interesting to note, Dr. Maltz never stated that one can change a habit in 21 days.

So, hold the course this year as you try to incorporate good habits into your daily routine, don’t get caught up in the numbers, know that you can miss a day and still create a positive habit, and be skeptical of what you hear and read.  If there is one truth to 21 days and creating a habit, remember that you can’t reach 66 or 254 days unless you pass 21 time after time.

Don’t get discouraged, your habit forming number is within you – hang tough.

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Top 10 Ways to Be Positive

It’s the Holidays – you know that time of the year when stress is everywhere, people become rushed, children become anxious, and there is never enough time in the day to get things done……Well Cheer-UP and Tune-UP your life in the top 10 ways to be positive:

Top 10 Ways to Be Positive:

  1. Write a gratitude journal.tune up figure
  2. Write down 3 things each morning that will elevate your day.
  3. Do a secret good deed for someone – shush don’t tell them.
  4. Write a gratitude/thank you and hand deliver
  5. Go to www.authentichappiness.org register and take the VIA Strength Survey for Adults or Children
  6. Use one of your top 5 strengths each day.
  7. Surround yourself with positive energy – people, environments, food, social media
  8. Meditate or do Yoga
  9. Prepare for a calling not a job or homework – focus on what lights you up – develop and use passion.
  10. BE YOU – Not what others want you to be – Live on Purpose!

Take a few minutes everyday you wake up and right before you go to sleep and practice one of the 10 ways of being more positive and you can guarantee yourself a bit more calm and a doable outlet to ENJOY the HOLIDAYS!

I wish you and your family and friends a very Special Holiday Season – filled with Happiness, Health, and Positive Energy!

Sue Dinnocenti, Ph.D.  sue@raisingapositivechild.com

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College Transitions

College Transitionscollege

One of the biggest “rites of passage” may be that of the college transition when a “child” enters into pseudo responsible adulthood surrounded by thousands of others in the same boat.  Another way to describe this transition may be the “blind leading the blind.”  Jokes and puns aside, transitioning into college takes work and requires skills related to organization, good decision making, ignoring peer pressure, and exercising strategies to keep self-esteem high during times of confusion and despair.

Many young adults have no practice in structuring their new life which requires setting a schedule to eat, do wash, study, socialize, go to class, exercise, join clubs or sports, pay bills, and sleep.  Their old high school days were already structured requiring the young person to basically follow a schedule that had been repeated for 12 years, and allow their parents or guardians care about the rest.

College Fit or Not

Although there are many college students who are very motivated and have been independent for both basic needs and survival before they arrive at college, many of their friends need help. Some problems students face are those of “fit,” “belonging,” and “opportunity.”

Fitness of the environment:

A college visit and a few reviews of the catalogue does not a fit make once the student has unpacked the clothes, plugged in the computer, and purchased a meal plan. Young adults who may have thought they wanted a large big time football, 300 student lecture hall, stand in line and walk a mile for a meal campus may think differently once the semester has begun especially if isolation has occurred (this is true for students who picked a small school with very little going on). Some students may try to stick out the semester and figure where to go next while others will have to leave immediately to keep both their sanity and desire to learn.  Do not write this emotion off as home-sickness, for some it may be but for others a constant noise has erupted inside that has left the young person off center and in need to find level ground.

Those students who need to leave have many options that a career counselor at the college or university can assist them with especially in determining if there is a refund, or if the semester courses can be completed on-line to receive credit and the process to transfer to another school.  Fit is very important and just like shoes – although they may look nice, until you walk around awhile you never know if they will feel good on you.

Belonging with others:

Some students love the idea of what college life can offer, academics, athletics, arts, activities, freedom, and much more.  However, all of those offerings are mainly done with other people – some very privileged who have traveled the world, and others who are the first generation to attend college – sometimes prior lifestyle identities clash and the disconnect pushes a student away.

Every college is a community and has a cultural identity – some are accepting of many cultures and ways of life and others are selective, biased, and unwelcoming.  Beyond cultural bias are those schools that demand one to learn in a prescribed way and are not creative or problem-based in their educational approach and creative thinkers need not apply.  Just as an environment needs to fit the student, so does the student need to feel belongingness as a resident of the college community.

Often times when a student does not feel he or she belongs, it is best to seek out colleges that have similar offerings with a demographic that best suits the personality of the student – there will always be time to broaden a lifestyle, making the college experience meaningful is the first step in growth.


Naturally college is to prepare students for the real world and assist them in their goal of contributing to society in a field they are interested in by utilizing their new learned skills and talents.  The millennium filled with massive global communication, technological growth, and computer processors doubling in power every 18 months will require current college students to be flexible and broad based in their learning.  Traditional learning in some colleges and universities can stifle creative and entrepreneurial thinking and it is up to the student to be an advocate, challenge professors and any wrote method of instruction, and seek out learning and professional opportunities to set him or herself apart from college mates.

College students no longer have to live or commute to a campus in order to learn core subjects as on-line learning is available to anyone who wants to learn and grow. On-line learning is affordable, flexible, and at times free especially from many MOOCS (Massive Online Open Course) offered from top level universities and colleges across the country.  Students who may have taken the “throw caution to the wind, have fun, social road” while in college have an opportunity to close skill gaps by adding a few MOOCs to the resume.

College transitions are no longer limited to decorating a dorm room, getting along with a roommate, figuring out what professors want to get an “A”, or planning out how to attend every party and athletic event, while trying to get some sleep and study time.  Transitions include what expert can I learn from on a MOOC, what job training does Google offer and what skills do I need, what kind of learning fits with my way of thinking, and can I belong to an on-line learning community where I am accepted and feel connected and respected.

Resources on Fit, Belonging, MOOCs:

Check out the College Board  and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) sites for suggested questions and fit finders for college seekers. The National Council for Education Statistics (NCES) has dedicated information related to finding a college as well as the United States Department of Education (Ed.gov) announcing steps that are being taken to protect college students from ineffective career college programs. To learn more about available MOOCs check out the MOOCs Directory.


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High School Transitions

High School Transitionshigh school

The arrival to high school can erupt many emotions for a young teenager: an apprehension at being the new kid on the block; exhilaration on achieving that long awaited destination; or just basic confusion on how it all fits together.  High school transitions prompt a quick reflection on those previous grade school and middle or jr high transitions and demand a new plan of attack.

For many teens the high school landscape may seem too vast to take hold of initially, the first few weeks of exploration include getting accustomed to hallway traffic and detours, personal contrasting educational philosophies of different teachers, understanding locker combination dilemmas, lunchroom inclusion or exclusion, and just trying to fit in can make high school an exhausting task – not to mention the early AM start.

Parent’s Guidance

It is important for a parent to hang in there with the teen during this transition period and be a guide by asking what other opportunities exist at school.  Although the teen may have put up a wall of “I can figure it out.” or “You don’t understand what HS is you are too old,” those comments are frustration speaking.  The reality is that many first year “quiet and/or belligerent” high schoolers are afraid and instead of reaching out they close up and miss out on hearing announcements that indicate days and times to sign up for cheerleading, band, sports, arts, debate clubs and the like.  This self-imposed fear may set a teen off on a lonely track and may make the first experience of HS an unsuccessful one.

Parents certainly hope their children become independent, ask questions, seek out help, and get involved to share personal gifts and talents yet, some children need that extra boost to make it happen.  High school goes by very quickly and it is important in the social/emotional and academic development of your child that a positive experience happen early, teens are going through so many changes it is best to help them create a HS environment where they feel safe and energized to thrive.

5 Tips for Parents of  High Schoolers

  1. Most school districts post school calendars and activities on-line for the general public while other districts email and post things on student and parent portals.  Stay aware of what is available to your child – and communicate options.
  2. If you know that the child has mentioned an interest in something. Ask when tryouts are and together work out a plan of transportation to make it happen.
  3. Follow-up with the teen on their interests, successes or challenges at school and offer assistance; schedule a weekend breakfast together, discuss options to get involved, create an action plan with the child.
  4. Some teens decide to get involved in everything while others struggle to join one organization. Show Up and support your child if your schedule permits – if it doesn’t then make time to talk about what your child is up to.
  5. High school transitions can be both difficult and non-eventful it depends on the variables in the HS environment, the self-esteem and self-efficacy the child has acquired, and the support the teen has and is able to accept.  Pay attention and Do not give up on your child.

Education is a life long journey and can help a person achieve dreams, realize potential, and develop strategies to live a life filled with meaning and purpose.  The happiness parents wish for their children is not elusive, it is internal and if young people feel supported, learn how to meet challenges with perseverance, and understand that difficult times are merely steps of growth – well the rest will take care of itself.

It’s the first month of HS do you know what positive opportunities are awaiting your child at school?  Find out together!


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Middle School Junior High Transitions

Middle School  Junior High Transitions

Does one cry, laugh, or hold one’s breath when a child is approaching that age of stresspuberty? What can be done when hormones, changes in attitude, and physical development are all on a collision course within a 12 – 16 yr old body? The answers are dependent on who the child is, what roles adults have in that child’s life, and possibly how much of a sense of humor, compassion, or understanding the adult has while dealing with the child going through a middle school or junior high transition.

Beginning middle school or junior high can be a bittersweet event for the tween who has been waiting to leave the younger grade schoolers behind and become part of the big leagues. Unlike the grade school transition this one may be met with outside bravado to parents, friends, and family and internal fear when the tween walks along the big hallways or forgets a locker number, or can’t figure out how to get to the science wing ending up in the 8th or 9th grade hallway.

What parents can do!

Reflect on the last school year of the tween and answer the following questions?

  • Did the child have an opportunity to see the middle or jr high during a typical school day and what was the reaction at that time?
  • How did the school district orient the tween to the next level of education (carnivals, young ambassadors visit elementary school, 5th or 6th graders visit upper level for a day, parent information nights)?
  • What conversations were shared related to getting to the next level of middle school or jr high?

If the answers to the reflections were that nothing was done to orient the child – then both parent and child must be proactive in finding a comfortable and trusting way of sharing the concerns of being the new kid on the block and discuss the possible pleasures and pitfalls that may lie ahead.  District resources would include the guidance counselor, principal, school nurse, homeroom teacher, and the many other subject area teachers within the school.  Although the baton may have been dropped before the beginning of school, there are many pathways to ensuring smooth sailing as the year progresses.

If the answers to the reflections were all positive and the tween is experiencing mood swings or a reluctance to attend – more probing is necessary as an outlying event may have occurred such as bullying, a cut-off friendship, or a hidden fear has lessened self-esteem. It is important to pay attention to these young tweens, as social pressures, and the longing to fit in and not knowing how, may lead to some depressive behavior that must be addressed.

Creating the Best Fit!

The tween years require personal patience and perseverance in tolerating ambiguity, changes in body structure, voice, unwelcome acne, and the internal fight of not wanting to listen to adult advice when constructive advice is needed more than ever.  These young people have not lived enough days to have mastered the strategies of hormonal control, or requesting to their superiors (teachers) that their desks be larger or chair unattached from the desk due to their 8″ growth spurt over the summer, or how to master learning from approximately 7 teachers in various content areas as opposed to the one or three that they had in grade school.  Tweens need help!

Transitions do not happen overnight and tweens, like anyone, benefit when they are reminded that change which may seem uncomfortable may be an indicator of growth and clear skies ahead.  Not that reminders of past growth make the current discomfort any easier, however, those previous successful turning points in a child’s life may be what they need to reflect on while facing the current cloudy situation.

Be Mindful, Sensitive, Supportive, and Communicate or Defer to Others!

Some parents forget what it was like growing up and believe if they tell their child to snap out of it and grow up it will magically happen.  The tween may view this as the nagging parent role when their basic need is to have a guide, mentor, or just someone to listen without judging.  Certainly some parents instinctually want to solve problems for their child and make everything pain free and easy – however, there is much research to support that young people who have not learned how to struggle academically or socially may develop a fixed mindset which restricts their views and beliefs in self versus a growth mindset.

If communication is not a strong point in the parent/tween relationship, the parent must defer to someone who the tween respects and can talk to, be it sibling, favorite relative, life coach … or trusted teacher.  The key is for the tween to feel heard, valued, and know that he or she is being supported. Once the tween has built a support network and has downloaded concerns and beliefs, it is up to the tween to work with his or her support partner and create an action plan to move forward.

Transitioning may or may not be easy for some tweens, however, it is a critical time in their young lives to become accountable in accepting challenges, and understand that with choices there are consequences.  Middle school and junior high years are precious to everyone, one just never realizes it until they are probably 30 or 40 years old.

Enjoy the craziness, tweens have many gifts to share!

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Grade School Transitions

Grade School Transitions can be Sunny, Cloudy, Stormy or Mostly Sunny!back to school

September rolls around and many young children are either sad that their play, beach, or friend time just got sliced in half or they may be happy that their learning, new friend, or structured time has increased.  Naturally there are those children who fall in between, yet the reality of school being the bulk of a child’s day is a critical time where many stakeholders’ actions as well as the child’s reactions and actions will create either a sunny or cloudy path.

The Sunny Side

the sunny sideElementary learners, those between the ages of 7-11, have at least one year of schooling under the belt and have been oriented to a classroom setting and the structures that surround school life.  Some of these structures include, how to speak with an inside voice, taking turns, raising your hand, knowing how to get out of the room in case a bathroom break is needed……and the list goes on.  For many of these young veterans, their eyes open wider as new privileges, opportunities, and learning challenges greet them with their new grade level. Second graders are no longer the little ones, third graders will actually break out of their dependency mode and become more independent as the year goes on, fourth graders arrive independent and begin to explore learning at a deeper level, and many fifth graders if not already in a transition 4/5 school are yearning for the year to fly by so they are anointed with that middle school title to signify their tween status and that they soon will be even cooler than they already are as the oldest grade in school.  Let the good times roll!

cloudy with rainThe Cloudy Side

For many children, the sun does not shine. Grade school transitioning is not a leap into learning, structure, or a status of independency.  The reality of finding, maintaining, or walking away from “friendships” is a challenge, as is becoming comfortable with structure in environment and structure in learning and discovery.  Children who feel these clouds are more likely to miss out on intellectual development, and certainly will need support to grow socially and emotionally. These second graders still are the little ones who may be shy, may have no siblings, have not had the chance to flourish in language, peer interaction, or have not broken away from a parent/guardian/caregiver.  The soon to be independent third grader may have been held back a year and has not adjusted to being older than the other classmates.  Our independent fourth graders may have a learning challenge which hinders the ability to read on grade level, or is a second language learner forced to learn everything in a foreign language known as English. Our eldest in the school, the beloved fifth grader, is a reluctant learner who is creative by nature, misunderstood by the teacher, and is intellectually gifted beyond his peers.  Let it rain!

The Stormy Sidestorm cloud bolt

Regardless of how a child arrives at school with a sunny or cloudy disposition, there are always situations that young people may have to face through no fault of their own. The partly cloudy side is when grade school children try to learn while parents are going through a divorce, there is sickness within the family, an unexpected death, financial hardship, or when a child becomes a victim of a prejudice at the hands of a bully who is not stopped by the educators in the system.  Make it stop or Lend a heart!

The Mostly Sunny Side:

mostly sunnyThe reality is every child in grade school will walk and grow through all kinds of weather; some days will begin with sunshine and end up raining, while other days will begin cloudy, hit a few storms, and end up with a rainbow bonus before the end of the day.  Every moment has its potential to be something positive or negative, and how a child, teacher, and classmates interact will determine the conditions. Grade school transitions work when every parent/guardian, and child take an active role in describing the weather conditions of their environment on a daily or weekly basis.  What does a cloudy day look like and how can those clouds get chased away – maybe it’s a conversation with a teacher, or a parent of another child who may be related to some friction that is occurring, or an understanding of the child on how he or she is internalizing the environment.  What does a sunny day look like, what is working and happening that can be sustained and who needs to know that something is working in a great way – tell that teacher, or friend, or understand the positive actions the child is taking and talk about those strengths.  Keep the sun shining! Finally, storms do come but as has been translated from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching –

“In all of nature; no storm lasts forever.”

Grade school children can grasp the understanding of a storm not lasting forever and if they are communicated with and taught the skills and strategies on how to minimize the storm damage their transition to any grade or life situation will bring them more Sunshine than clouds.

Enjoy the new school year – may it be Bright!

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Transitioning tips – Pre-K, K, or 1st

Transition Time for Pre-K-, K, 1st graders!

The end of July signals many happenings: seanie drivewaysleep away camps are more than half-way through as indicated by Parent Visitation weekends, pools and beaches are more crowded with temperatures and humidity factor in the 90’s, and the smells of hotdogs, hamburgers, and charcoal mix with the sounds of ice-cream trucks and outdoor fun signifying picnics and gatherings are the norm.

Aside from food and fun are the preparations children and families are making as they transition from pre-school to Kindergarten or from Kindergarten to first-grade.  There is work to be done by our young ones as many children who were used to a half-day pre-school or kindergarten setting will now experience a full-day in some kindergartens and certainly in first-grade.

Although many children can play all day and grunt at suggestions of being tired and needing rest, it is not the case when young children enter a learning situation where structure, time constraints, and choices are not necessarily theirs.  The beginning of anything “new” may cause anxiety, defiance, or simply just confusion and sadness related to a routine that has now changed. Regardless of how a child reacts, there are a few tips that can be introduced as the summer draws to an end which may assist in transitioning to length of day, lack of choice, and structured time segments.

Tips on Transitions to Time, Structure, Choice

  1. Attend a local day camp for a week or two which offers organized and scheduled sports, arts & crafts, lunch, theater – or find a Local Bible Camp which typically runs for one week and operates on a scheduled activity agenda
  2. Create some practice school days over the next 4 weeks which include an early wake and dress-up, breakfast, walk to bus stop, two or three 30-40 minute game and reading sessions, sit-down lunches, a 20 min quiet time, and finish with some basic math, letters, and storytelling opportunities which also last for about 20 minutes each session….do not overdo it, simply allow the child to get a view of what lies ahead
  3. Review any literature that the school or teacher has provided and ask what questions your child has regarding the literature
  4. Invite an older child to describe going to kindergarten or first-grade for the first time and what they experienced and how they adapted to the things they liked and to the things they didn’t like – don’t mislead the child into thinking that everything will be perfect
  5. Practice a “non-choice day” where games or stories are selected by parent/guardian/other and not by the child to illustrate how in a school setting a teacher or another student will make a choice that the rest of the group must follow

There are no crystal balls to show what each child will face in the first few weeks of school, however, setting up some practice days where a child can work through feelings of anxiety, resentment, confusion, or elation and anticipation may be the secret key in a smooth transition.



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Summer Camp Transitions

But where is Jessica and Jason and my teacher?

It’s wonderful when a child is old enough to get out of the house at the big age of 3 or 4 and learn to play with others in a pre-pre-school or pre-school setting and the little one begins to understand the process of routine and time structured spots.  It is equally nice for mom/dad/guardian to gain a 2-3 hr slot of freedom as well.  However, once Summer rolls around that routine may get changed and new doubts and questions enter the child’s mind as is in the case of Casey’s Summer Camp transition.

Here’s the story of little Casey age 4 upon beginning her new “summer camp”  weeks at the place where pre-school had just ended:

Casey:  “Mommy – I can’t go in room, I don’t see Timmy and Jessica – no mommy I can’t go there.”

Mommy: “Casey, honey, this is the same place you go to every Monday and Wednesday.”

Casey: “But No Mommy, it can’t be they’re not there.”

Mommy: “Oh, I know they are not there but sometimes children do different things in the summer and so do teachers, you will make some new friends and meet a new teacher and you can tell Jessica and Timmy all about them.”

Casey: “I don’t know Mommy, I need Timmy and Jessica.”

Mommy: “Well, dear, can you try it for a few days to see what kind of arts and crafts, and games that the teacher has for you, and make some new friends?”

Casey: “I don’t know Mommy, they’re not they’re.”

The conversation between Mommy and Casey stayed about the same for the first 3 days of camp until Casey met up with Lenny and Kaia and then couldn’t stop talking about them to everyone she met.  Her transition to camp was successful due to the patience and understanding of her Mommy.

Too often, well meaning and loving parents forget the time it takes to transition from one environment, age, or routine.  In Casey’s situation she was met with repetition, reassurance, and respect as she pleaded her case of not having those cherished friends who were so important to her comfort.  Naturally, all children are different and whereas Casey moved forward to her new camp environment, other children may not be ready.

Transitions are never easy for the young child and depending on the situation and of course the child, there are many ways to guide one forward.  One resource to explore is The National Association for the Education of Young Children which highlights researched-based strategies for children aged birth to eight and may be helpful as you help your child grow.

Happy Summer!


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School’s Out For Summer

sunshineRemember the countdown to Summer?

No matter what age or position you have in this big world; teacher, child, regular member of society or….when June rolls  around, it is hard not to smile and think of the excitement of No School or sing a few verses of the classic Alice Cooper song “School’s Out for Summer.”

For most of our young people there is an increased energy in their step, their smiles become bigger and brighter, and their dreams of splashing in the pool, endless screen time on hand-helds and Big Screen TV’s take center stage.  Although some children will do the splash and screen scene, many others will explore a new territory while on vacation with their parents and will benefit from understanding cultures both domestic and abroad.  Other children will grow through their involvement in day or sleep away camp, yet some children may not benefit at all due to family situations or the lack of available funds. To these children, Summer is Long Hot and Lonely.

I often wonder what goes through a child’s mind and heart when they feel the heat of loneliness and the length of days without splashing and exploring?  I also wonder what one kind gesture could do to that loneliness and what big lesson of compassion would be gained by both giver and receiver?

Many of us know a child or an adult who would benefit from a trip to a museum, a day at a pool,  a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, or a car ride to the local mini-golf and ice cream hangout without having to pay?  Wouldn’t it be nice to grab a few of those discounted tickets and make it happen?

After all, School’s Out for Summer!


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Words Matter When You Praise

Parents Matter… So Do Words of Praise

By Susan T. Dinnocenti, Ph.D

Parents often use words like “TERRIFIC”, “GREAT”, “YOU”RE THE BEST”, or THAT’S WONDERFUL” in reaction to their child’s academic, artistic, creative, or athletic performances. While these superlatives are heartfelt they can become overused and convey very little meaning to a child who is looking for more constructive comments in order to improve his or her performance. This can be especially true when children judge their work as mediocre and regard a parent’s high praise as superficial or insincere.

A child who consistently hears that he or she is wonderful, terrific, or the best athlete, student, artist, writer, dancer … may find it difficult to achieve higher levels skills or personal growth in a particular area.  If the same words are used with other siblings they may have even less meaning.

A case in point: As a personal life coach for young people ages 7 – 21, I recently worked with an 11-year-old client, Sarah. One of her personal goals was to improve her writing. It is an academic strength area as well as a passion. She had written a four-page story and left it on the dining room table for her mom to critique.  Her piece centered on two main characters having a conversation about a mutual friend. Their compassion for others was to become apparent as they spoke with each other.  When Sarah’s mom offered feedback she told her daughter, “That story you wrote was “GREAT”, you are just the “BEST” in everything you do.”  Sarah asked her mom how she thought the conversation between the two characters went. Her mom replied, “Oh, that part was TERRIFIC!  I could tell they were having fun.”  Sarah was disappointed, especially when she overheard her mother use the same complimentary words with a younger sister, (a much poorer writer in Sarah’s opinion!), about a story the sister had written.

“My mom’s comments meant nothing,” Sarah told me. “I don’t think she even read my story. How will I ever know when a story is really good or how to improve if she says the same thing every time? Why can’t she tell me the truth so that I can be better in what I love to do?”

While Sarah’s mother did not communicate in a way that added value to her daughter’s search for improvement, Sarah had not told her mother the purpose of the assignment and what she needed in a critique.

This same type of communication gap may exist in the area of athletics.  Depending on the age of the child and the current level of competition hearing the words “great, terrific…” consistently during the growing years may come back to deflate the child’s self-esteem if the child is later cut from a travel or school team.

Colin, a 9-year-old sports fanatic, who especially loved basketball, was told from the age of 4 that he was “terrific” at any sport he tried.  He was also a bit bigger than his same age peers and he was able to dominate in both skill and physical prowess over other teammates.  He won easily and was awarded the trophies and accolades from coaches and parents who supported his “terrificness.”

However, when Colin turned 10 he entered into the travel team arena where competition included 10-12 year olds who were even bigger and more experienced.  He had become a “terrific” little fish in a “great” ocean.

At team tryouts those words of “terrific, best, great …” did not coincide with how he felt.  They had no real meaning in applying specific positive thinking and behavior under new circumstances.  Colin did not make the travel team and could only play on the town recreation team.

“Colin was so lost out there the day of tryouts,” his mother reported.  “I just knew that whatever encouragement I had been giving him just wasn’t working anymore.  When he didn’t make the team I was at a loss for words.”

Both Colin and Sarah would have benefited from meaningful and purposeful communication and from having practiced and internalized the strategies of optimism.  There are steps, which parent and child can take together so that the words that matter can be expressed.


  • Think about how you critique your child
    • Do you sit down and give eye contact?
    • Does your child have a chance to respond?
    • Do you write down your comments?
  • Without understanding what you do now, you cannot move forward in communicating with your child


  • Determine how you and your child relate to each other
    • Managerial – you are the parent therefore you know what’s best for the child
    • Friendly – a mutual give and take – honest- open
    • Adversarial – water and oil
    • Role Mode/Idol – child believes parent is the ultimate being
  • It is crucial to know your view and your child’s view of the relationship as your words will echo the tone of your feelings


  • Purpose – Before you read a composition or attend a performance by your child, mutually establish particular areas to critique (e.g. how the child used metaphor, or how the child played defense)
  • Describe Behaviors – Specifically address what your child demonstrated in the performance (e.g. “Your description of the sunrise being a burning yoke ascending into the sky was so vivid in the 2nd paragraph,” or “Your defense in the 1st half held the center to 2 pts.”)
  • Question Back – Get feedback from your child with his/her own recognition of demonstrated behaviors
    • (e.g. “Using metaphor is a challenge for me – I am glad you saw the colors of the sunrise, I want to use more of that in my writing.” or “Well, I played the center really tight because I knew he could score if I didn’t.”)
  • Feedback – List the comments from both you and your child in an ongoing journal, or on the game schedule posted on the refrigerator – have the information accessible to both of you
  • Rewind Your Mind – Before the next composition or event, reflect back or re-read previous comments given to your child to avoid using the same words


  •  Improved communication on critiquing your child’s performance requires patience, practice, and being present.
  • If time is limited to comment, hold off until quality time is available for both of you. In time, these four (4) steps will strengthen and nourish the parent-child relationship with communication that is clear and constructive.  The child already knows that “Parents Matter” and so will their words when they count the most.

Byline info:  Susan T. Dinnocenti, has a Ph.D. in Talent Development and Educational Psychology and is a Personal and Professional Motivational Coach and Trainer.

For further information on how to apply and utilize the critique techniques or to schedule/attend a workshop on Using Words That Matter, contact Susan T. Dinnocenti, Ph.D. at 203 536-5496 sue@susandinnocenti.com or www.raisingapositivechild.com

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