Expressing Gratitude in Challenging Times

Navigating life’s hardships (including a contentious election, a global pandemic, and the economic breakdowns caused by COVID-19) can be exhausting. However, there is still a lot that we can be thankful for.

The Thanksgiving holiday is our annual reminder to be grateful, even amidst challenges. Make a list of the people you are grateful for and think about why you value them. Reach out each person and express that gratitude. 

When we remember what we are grateful for, that positive feeling will fuel our ability to overcome obstacles. We shouldn’t let any opportunity to be grateful pass us by.

Achieving civility through our mindsets

Mindsets and civility

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

“I’m not allowed to get angry?” That’s a question that is raised in nearly every civility workshop we lead. Participants want to know how to have a mindset focused on civility when they’re feeling angry or frustrated. Our answer to that question is, “Of course you’re allowed to be angry. But, choose a mindset that helps you deal with the problem with civility.” It is our ability to understand the roles of emotions and mindsets that can help us maintain civility through everyday challenges.

While our emotions influence our mindsets, you can choose different mindsets for the same emotion. For example, if I’m feeling angry that my flight got canceled, I can choose a mindset that says, “This is the worst day ever! Why does this always happen to me? Nothing ever goes right.” Or, I can have a mindset that says, “I’ll get through this. There is a solution here. I can get this fixed.” The emotion is the same in both scenarios, but the mindset changes. When we lose someone close to us, we can feel that sadness for the rest of our life, but our mindsets may change and evolve over time. We can be devastatingly heartbroken over someone’s passing (emotion) and think about how grateful we are for the memories we have (mindset) at the same time.

Choosing your mindset, no matter your emotional state, is an incredibly powerful tool because our mindset impacts our response. A negative mindset makes it less likely that we will choose the best possible response.

Our response to any situation is always entirely within our control. No matter how angry or frustrated we get, we can choose any number of responses – from violence, shaming, and name-calling to asking questions, seeking connection, and working to understand the other person. It is the same emotion, but different mindsets produce different responses.

The next time you are struggling to choose the right response in an emotional moment hit pause and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What emotion am I feeling right now and why am I feeling it? Acknowledge the emotion. Acknowledge the reason for that emotion. Feel what you feel.
  2. What outcome do I hope to achieve in this situation? You can’t fix everything, but what outcome is within your influence?
  3. What mindset and response give me the best chance to achieve that outcome?

Character helps us achieve

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

Talent matters. Talented athletes are likely to win more games. Talented students are likely to achieve higher test scores. Talented musicians and artists are likely to receive recognition for their work. Talent impacts results.

Although our society puts a lot of emphasis on talent, talent is just the minimum that we can achieve. To advance from talent to skill and then to achievement, we rely on our character skills like strong work ethic, leadership, perseverance, integrity, etc.

60-Second Character Reflection

  1. What character skill could you improve to better maximize your talent?
  2. Think of someone you teach, coach, parent, or lead. What character skill(s) could you help that person develop to help them maximize their talent?

Energy and effort into what matters

By Jeff Kluever, Director of Programs

There’s a popular demonstration called “Jar of Life” in which a jar is filled with big rocks (important things like family, health, work), little rocks (less important things like sports or hobbies), and sand (unimportant things like watching television or social media). When you fill the jar with the big rocks first, then the little rocks, and finally the sand, everything fits in the jar. If you reverse the process and start with sand, then little rocks, then big rocks, not everything fits in the jar.

The point of the demonstration is that when we fill our time with the most important things first, the little rocks and sand can be worked in, but when our time is consumed by unimportant things, we run out of space for what really matters.

When I perform the demonstration, however, I exchange the big rocks for balloons and pose the question – instead of trying to cram more unimportant things into our jar, what if we decided to put more air into our balloons? In other words, what if we put more time, energy, and effort into the big things that really matter, instead of jamming more unimportant sand into our life? What will be more fulfilling – putting more into the important aspects of your life or spending more time on social media?

There’s nothing wrong with having some little rocks and sand in your jar. We need variety in our lives. We need opportunities to rest and rejuvenate so that when the time comes we can be fully engaged with our balloons. But, when you feel like you’re falling short, when there’s just not enough time in the day, don’t cram in more sand. Put air in your balloons.

60-Second Character Challenge
  • What are the critically important “big rocks” or “balloons” in your life?
  • What could you do to invest more time and energy into your “balloons?”
  • What unimportant sand could you remove from your life in order to invest more energy into your “balloons?

Leading a significant life

From guest contributor Michael Josephson, founder of CHARACTER COUNTS!

Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” In a world increasingly dominated by unapologetic selfishness, this idea may seem quaint and outdated. Yet, for those who have a grand vision of their purpose and value, striving to be of service is not only a noble thing to do, it’s the best way to lead a truly fulfilling and significant life.

Poet William Allen Dromgoole put it this way:

An old man going a lone highway
Came at the evening, cold and grey,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a swollen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim.
That swollen stream held no fears for him,
But he paused when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting strength with building here.
Your journey ends with the ending day.
You never again must pass this way.
You’ve crossed this chasm deep and wide.
Why build this bridge at the even’ tide?”

The builder lifted his old grey head,
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

“This swollen stream that was naught for me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

Conflict resolution for kids

From guest contributor Dr. Michele Borba

Arguing. Quarreling. Yelling. Door slamming. Crying. Hurt feelings. Sound familiar? Arguments are a big part of why kids can’t get along, and conflict is also a part of life. One of the most essential skills you need to teach your child is how to handle conflicts so he can survive the social jungle and life. Learning how to deal with all those problems that crop up is a big part of growing up and an essential life skill.

The key point is that not only must your child learn how to solve problems but do so in a peaceful, calm way so that all the kids involved feel like they’ve won. That’s called a win-win scenario and it’s the best way to reduce arguments and restore friendships. Doing so will not only dramatically boost your child’s friendship quotient, but also improve harmony on the home front. And wouldn’t that ever be a plus?

On a day-to-day basis, the problems our kids face are tough: prejudice, sibling conflict, academic and youth sport pressures, rejection by friends, cliques and gangs, bullying, trying to get along, as well as the frustrations of just growing up. These are issues we used to think only affected older kids; the fact is they are impacting our children at a younger and younger age. 

Although we can’t protect our kids from problems, frustrations and heartaches, we can arm them with tools to better handle them. The more we help them learn to resolve conflicts peacefully, the greater the likelihood they’ll develop into more self-sufficient, and resourceful individuals able to deal any issue—and do so without our guidance.

5 Steps to Help Kids Solve Conflicts Amicably

Use the following as a guide to help your kid minimize fighting and learn to solve problems peacefully. Each letter in the acronym, “STAND” represents on one of the five steps in conflict resolution and helps kids recall the process. I developed S.T.A.N.D. when I was teaching special needs kids who had difficulty recalling information. It worked so well for them, I began to use it in my private practice with kids. The best news is that I have students coming back years later saying, “I’m still taking that STAND, Dr. Borba.” YES!!!!

Take a S.T.A.N.D. to Solve a Problem

S – Stop and calm down. Keep emotions in check.

T – Tell what’s bugging you. Listen to each side. Stick to facts!

A – Assess alternatives. Brainstorm your options.

N – Narrow the choices to “win-wins”

D – Decide on the best one that you both agree upon -and  do it!

Remember, the best way to teach any skill is by “Showing” not “Telling.”  So model each step, and then rehearse it over and over until your child can do each step without you. Learning how to deal with problems in the comfort of your home is also the greatest place for kids to learn by trial and error. Keep reinforcing a realistic approach to help your kids solve problems until they can confidently do so on their own. Finally, make sure you are modeling how to solve problem. Kids watch their parents conflict styles and copy. 

Step 1. S = Stop and Calm Down

The first step to solving problems peacefully — or conflict resolution — is teaching kids how to calm down and tune into their feelings. The reason is simple: it’s impossible to think about how solve a problem if you’re upset. Once in control, you can begin to rationally figure out why you’re upset and then find an answer to your dilemma.  So teach your kid to take a slow deep breath to calm down or walk away until he’s calm. If emotions are high amongst the two kids, do intervene: “I see two angry kids who need to calm down so they can figure out how to solve their problem.”  Tip: You might need to separate the kids until their anger is under control.

Step 2. T = Take Turns Telling What the Problem Is

The trick in this second step is to teach and then enforce these two critical rules:

  • No put downs or name-calling: You must listen to each other respectfully. (And that takes time!)
  • No interrupting: Each person gets a chance to talk. You might ask each kid to say what happened, summarize each view, and then end with, “What can you do now to solve this problem?” Make suggestions only when your kids really seem stuck.

Three Tips: 

1. One trick: Tell kids to start their explanations with the word  “I” instead of  “You” then describe the problem and how they want it resolved. Doing so helps the speaker focus on the conflict without putting the other kid down. For instance:  “I’m ticked because you never give me a turn. I want to use the computer, too.”

2. If emotions are high, give kids the option of writing or drawing their view of the problem instead of saying it to each other. It’s particularly helpful for younger or less verbal kids. 

3. The goal should be to help each kid try and feel what it’s like to be in the other kid’s shoes. One way to do this is by having each kid put into their own words what the other kid has told them.

Step 3. A = List the Alternatives to Resolving It

Next, kids need think of alternatives so they have ways to finding a resolution. Whether your child is a preschooler or an adolescent, the basic rules of thinking of solutions (or brainstorming — or “storming your brain for ideas”)  are the same:

Brainstorming Rules for Kids

  • Say the first thing that pops into your mind-every idea counts.
  • Don’t put down anyone else’s ideas.
  • Change or add onto anyone’s idea.
  • Try to come up with ideas that work for both sides.

Don’t offer your help unless kids really seem stuck! The only way they will develop the confidence to figure things out alone is if you let them.  To keep kids focused, say they must come up with five (or two or three for younger kids) different solutions before you return. Then leave for a few minutes. Stretch the time depending on the children’s age and problem-solving skills.

Teach Little Ones to Use a “Hand Pocket Solver”

A fun idea for younger kids is to teach them to use a “Hand Pocket Problem Solver” (aka their hand!) Hold their hand in yours and go through problem solving steps. You will have to do this dozens of times but it will kick in!

Thumb:  Say what’s bugging you (the problem)
Pointer, Middle Man, Ring Man: Name 3 ways to solve it (ANYTHING!)
Pinkie: Name the best choice.

Step 4. N = Narrow Choices

Narrow the options down to a few choices. Hint: You will have to go through this a few times but the process is so important. These are the steps that teach decision-making — the same steps your tween or teen will need later to make good, wise, and safe choices alone. 

Here are  two rules to help kids get closer to resolving the problem:

  • Rule 1: Eliminate solutions that are unacceptable to either kid because they don’t satisfy their needs.
  • Rule 2. Eliminate any solutions that aren’t safe or wise (or against our home rules).

Step 5. D = Decide the Best Choice and Do It!

The final step helps kids learn how to make the best decision by thinking through the consequences of their choices.  You can teach kids to think about the consequence of their remaining choices by asking: “What might happen if you tried that?”

Another way to help kids decide on the best choice is by helping them weigh the pros and cons of each remaining possibility: 

  • “What are all the good and bad things that might happen if you chose that?” 
  • “What is the one last change that would make this work better for both of us.”

Once they decide, the two kids shake on the agreement or take turns saying, “I agree.” And then they must stick to that agreement. Yes, it will take time — so keep on. Remember, your real goal is to help your kids learn to act right and make safe, wise choices without you. So keep guiding your kids until they can do the steps– and then step back so they will. 

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned consultant, educational psychologist and recipient of the National Educator Award who has presented workshops to over a million participants worldwide. She is a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 22 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect,The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and Building Moral Intelligence. She has appeared over 130 times on the TODAY show and is a frequent expert on national media including Dateline, The View, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Phil. To book her for speaking or media even refer to her website: www.micheleborba.com. Follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba.

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The treasure of old friends

From guest contributor Michael Josephson

In my lifetime, I’ve had the good fortune of having a handful of good friends.

Each of my children have many hundreds. At least that’s what they call every Facebook connection they collect like trophies. The list of those kinds of friends includes people they barely know, some they don’t know at all, and even some people they don’t like.

They also have lots of real friends – people they actually know and spend time with. They profess to “love” and “miss” quite a few and, though it defies the meaning of the word “best” they each have a rotating group of best friends often referred to a BFFs (best friends forever) or BFFLs (best friends for life).

It’s pretty obvious to an old codger like me (using the word codger proves how old I am), that their use of the labels “friend” and “best friend” represents a diluted and naïve concept of the intensity and longevity of friendship.

In relationships, “forever” is, outside of rare exceptions, a romantic illusion borne out of real but transitory emotions. From the perch provided by decades of experience, it’s pretty obvious that none or only a few of today’s BFFs will be in their lives for very long.

This is not to say that these relationships aren’t important or that they don’t provide all kinds of needed comforts such as companionship, validation, support, fun, and caring counsel. But just as lasting and meaningful love is hard to find and sustain, true friendships are rare and, therefore, precious.

Generally, the intensity and longevity of almost all friendships are tied to context, place and time.

Except for friendships with relatives (if you’re fortunate to have any who really are your friends), friendships rarely make the transition from one major stage of our lives to another.

And though we may feel affection for old friends who once played a central role in our lives, unless we have been in regular contact, many of the qualities that made the relationship so special (shared joys and grief in real time, common experiences, intimate knowledge of our thoughts and feelings) just aren’t there anymore.

The insight of age is that even our best friendships usually morph into memories.

Fortunately, the emotions that define these memories are easily re-awakened and enjoyed with even infrequent contact.

Communicating with “old friends” can enrich our lives by  bringing our pasts into the present, reminding us of who we were and how we became what we are.

The irony is that Facebook, which seems to promote a watered down version of friendship for my kids, also makes it possible for me to re-connect with a small army of far-flung folks who once played a major role in my life — and I’m glad for that.

Fun ways to help kids learn the power of kindness

From guest contributor Dr. Michele Borba

When my children were little, we played a game called the Silent Fuzzy Pass. Fuzzy was a bright orange, ragged old stuffed animal that I suppose was a bear though it’s debatable. Each night, Fuzzy “mysteriously appeared” on one of my son’s pillows because the receiving child had been especially caring that day-and trying to sneak it there was always challenging. I only needed to put Fuzzy out once for the game to be effective.

The very next day-and the next few weeks-the boys were on a “kindness alert,” watching for a brother to say or do something nice so that they could later try to guess who Fuzzy would visit that night. All day long they would run to me with “kindness reports”: “Zach was really nice. He shared his toys with me.” “Jason was kind. He let me choose the game we played.” The only rule was that the boys had to explain why they felt the deed was kind. Later that night they would run to their pillows to see who Fuzzy had visited. The nonrecipients would tell the honored brother why Fuzzy probably chose him by reciting the kind deeds they remembered him doing earlier.  Then the discussion would turn to their telling the brother how much they liked receiving his kind gestures, and the smile on the listener’s face was always priceless.

I still don’t remember how our “Fuzzy visits” got started. It probably was one of those spontaneous parenting moments when my kids’ “kindness level” needed readjusting, and the idea just came. But it was amazing how such a simple little strategy could be so effective in boosting the virtue in my family. It sure taught me a few things: I learned that by really targeting kindness for a few weeks at home, my sons focused more on the behavior, and doing so helped them acquire a repertoire of kind deeds. I also learned the importance of letting my children know that their kind deeds positively affected others. Their kind gestures blossomed in our home-and it was so simple!

I’ve used these virtue-building lessons with my kids as well as students ever since. And it also seems that research shows that that easy little “spur of the moment” technique is one of the best ways to boost our children’s kindness muscles.

The Science of Kindness

Studies firmly support the theory that by practicing small acts of kindness, people are often guided to perform more widespread acts of compassion even though that may not have been their original intention.

Samuel and Pearl Oliner discovered this phenomenon in their famous landmark study in Europe involving the rescuers of Jews from the Nazi persecution. Their book, The Altruistic Personality, is profound. In their interviews with the rescuers, a significant number said they had first planned to give only limited help, but their commitment grew once they became involved. The same phenomenon will take place with children once they recognize that their acts of kindness are appreciated. The more opportunities children have to experience what it feels like to be the giver of kindness, the more likely they will incorporate the virtue as part of their character. We need to make sure our children have those opportunities to extend kindness.

3 Ways Kids Can Practice Doing Kind Deeds

What follows are a few ideas parents, teachers, and club leaders have used that encourage kids to practice doing kind deeds.

1. Create a Kindness Center Piece

A family from Toledo shared this heart centerpiece activity with me; it not only makes a charming decoration but also nurtures kindness. Gather your family together and brainstorm a list of kind deeds kids can do for just about anybody. Set one criterion: the deeds must all come “straight from the heart” and can’t be something you purchase.

Here are a few simple kindness suggestions other kids have come up with: say hello, ask how they are, offer to help, share something (anything!), give a compliment, invite them to play, listen and wait, give a pat on the back, ask someone to have lunch with you, teach a game to a friend, let the other person “go first,” write a thank you note, hug someone you love, open the door, give praise, do an errand for someone, give a high five, recycle, rake the neighbor’s leaves, wave to a stranger, bring a flower to your teacher, let them choose first, smile 

Next, help your kids cut out fifteen to twenty-five colored paper heart shapes about three inches wide. On each heart, write a different kind deed. Then have kids decorate the hearts with whatever art supplies you have handy–glitter, stickers, marking pens, doilies, and paper scraps. Tape the back of each heart onto a pipe cleaner. Now place the “heart flowers” into any vase.

Every morning, invite each family member to pull a heart shape from the centerpiece. Encourage him to do the kind deed for people sometime that day. Each night at dinner, have everyone take turns describing his kindness-giving experience. Be sure to point out that people react differently to kindness and that not everyone may seem appreciative, but kind deeds are always the right thing to do.

2.  Assign Secret Kindness Pals in Your Class or Home

This idea is a great way to help children learn that giving can be just as fun as receiving. Start by writing each child’s name on a paper slip; put them all in a basket, bag or other container. Each participating child then takes a turn pulling a slip; the pulled name becomes the child’s secret kindness pal. Explain that her task for the next week-a few days for younger kids-is to do a secret act of kindness toward her pal each dayEmphasize that the pal should not “see” the child performing the deed-that’s what makes it secret and what makes the game so intriguing.

Some of the secret deeds kids come up with are just plain wonderful. I’ve had students draw pictures, write a song, pick a flower bouquet, and string a necklace. My own kids secretly cleaned a brother’s room (a true first!), did laundry, and even ironed a shirt (though this was definitely a time when the thought was what really counted, not what the shirt looked like later).

My favorite example came from a Girl Scout troop in New York. Each girl’s secret buddy was a cancer patient in a pediatric ward. Each day for a month, the girls did secret kindly deeds for the children, such as leaving e-mail messages for them on the hospital computers, bringing toys, making colorful posters to wish them a happy day, baking cookies, and even making tapes of their favorite music to give. The patients adored the gestures, but the girls got even more enjoyment from doing the secret caring deeds.

When I did this activity with students, I always allowed a few minutes before dismissal to ask: “Has anybody done something nice for you? What was it?  How did it make you feel? Who do you think your secret pal was today?”

The discussion always generated ideas for more secret kind gestures and also clearly let the senders know that their gestures were appreciated. Warning: the key to the activity’s success is keeping the secret pal a secret-which is almost impossible for some kids ( like one of my own sons  -so try to keep things lighthearted even if the secrecy rule isn’t strictly adhered to. Feel free to give younger kids hints for ideas they might try to keep things hush hush.

3. Make a Giving Tree Filled with Kind Deeds

One of the cutest ideas I’ve seen for helping kids practice kindness was done by a Boys and Girls Club in Atlanta. The leaders first read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, a wonderful parable about a tree and a boy who grow old together and finally that recognize the greatest gift is giving of yourself. Next,  they stood a large leafless tree branch in a pot and placed it in the middle of the room. The leaders then asked the kids to think of kind gestures they could do for someone when she looked sad or lonely like the tree. Each child’s idea was written on a six-inch leaf shape precut from colored paper, then hung to the branch with a paper clip.

In a short time, their Giving Tree was covered with kind ideas, such as give a hug, smile, call her at home, ask her to play, sing a song, say a kind word, share something, ask what you can do, draw a picture. The leaders finally said, “Each day during the week when you come to the club, go to the Giving Tree, find an idea you could do for someone to make his day brighter, and then do it. It will make not only his day better, but also yours.”

Parents, scout leaders, and teachers have told me they also made Giving Trees to help promote kindness with children. All you need is a small branch, plaster of paris, construction paper, scissors, paper clips, and a can.  In fact, a fun family outing is taking a walk together just to find “the perfect branch.”

There are dozens of simple kindness rituals you can do with children.

  • A year-round Giving Tree: My girlfriend Cindy Morse kept her tree for years standing by her kitchen table. Every holiday, her children decorated the tree: paper bunnies for Easter, Kleenex ghosts for Halloween, American flags for the Fourth of July, and hearts with kind deeds for Valentine’s Day. It’s a wonderful family tradition you might want to begin. Cindy now does the same activity with her grandkids.
  • Pull a kind deed every day Giving Tree: My own family kept a small “Giving Tree” on our kitchen table. We’d periodically add more “kind deeds” written on small paper leaves to the tree. It was the perfect way to start. Each of us could look at one kind deed and then try to remember to do it for someone that day. A highlight of the evening dinner was talking about the kind deed and the impact it had on the individual.
  • A Giving Tree kindness wall at a school: The Shipley School in Pennsylvania just emailed that they were started a Kindness Wall today. Every student was writing (or drawing) on a Post-it note an act of kindness they had done or seen that day. The wall was wrapping the school! What ideas are you doing with your students or children? Please share! After all, the world needs kindness and it must start with our children. Let’s start kindness traditions and keep them going all year round!

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned consultant, educational psychologist and recipient of the National Educator Award who has presented workshops to over a million participants worldwide. She is a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 22 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect,The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and Building Moral Intelligence. She has appeared over 130 times on the TODAY show and is a frequent expert on national media including Dateline, The View, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Phil. To book her for speaking or media even refer to her website: www.micheleborba.com. Follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba.

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Seven ways to build strong character and integrity in children

From guest contributor Dr. Michele Borba

Wondering what can you do to help your kids counter negative influences and stand up for what they know is right? The answer is to nurture a solid moral core that will guide them to stand up for their beliefs and act right without us. And the best news is that we can teach kids the core virtues and skills of strong character and moral courage and can begin when they are toddlers.

Here are seven parenting tips from my book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, you can use to help your kids stand up for their beliefs, buck negative peer pressure, and live their lives guided by integrity. Just remember: it’s never too late—or early—to start.

1. Know What You Stand for So Your Kid Knows
Parents with clearly identified moral convictions are more likely to raise good kids. Because their kids know what their parents stand for and why they do, their kids are more likely to adopt their parents’ beliefs. So begin by asking yourself what virtues and moral beliefs matter most to you. Make a list, then narrow them to your top three. These will become your personal moral code and guide you in how you will raise your child. It’s also the best way to help your child develop his own moral beliefs. Here are five quick questions to gauge how well you’re parenting solid moral beliefs in your child:

  • You can quickly name the 3-5 virtues you want most for your child to acquire.
  • Your child could name the virtues you believe in most without prompting.
  • You reinforce your child whenever he shows your selected virtues in his behavior.
  • Your child can clearly see your chosen virtues in your daily behavior.
  • You use those virtues as your day to day code of ethical behavior and family living.

2. Walk Your Talk
One great question to ask yourself each day is: “If I were the only example my child had to learn moral habits, what did she learn today from watching me?” The answer can be quite revealing. By watching your choices and hearing your casual comments, kids learn our moral standards. Make sure the moral behaviors your kids are picking up on are ones that you want your kids to copy. How many of these messages apply to you? Do you…

  • Eat a “sample” from a store’s candy bin in front of your child without paying?
  • Buy a ticket for a “child under twelve” even though your child is older?
  • Drive faster than the speed limit with your child as a passenger?
  • Tell your child to say you’re not there when your boss calls?
  • Do the majority of your child’s work on a school project, but have him sign his name?

3. Share Your Moral Beliefs and Take Stands
Speaking frequently to your child about values  is called direct moral teaching. Parents who raise ethical kids do it a lot. So look for moral issues and talk about them as they come up: from TV shows and news events to situations at home, school, and friends. Tell your kids how you feel about the issue and why.

Share examples of morally courageous heroes such as Rosa Parks, Pee Wee Reece, Harriet Tubman, Abe Lincoln. There are wonderful books and videos in your local library that you can share with your child.

Most important: Stand up for your own beliefs whenever you feel a major value is jeopardized. Your kid needs to see and hear about moral courage so he has an example to copy.

4. Ask Moral Questions to Stretch Moral Development
Questioning is an important parenting tool for enhancing children’s consciences and strengthening moral beliefs. The right kind of questions can help kids expand their ability to take another perspective and ask themselves: “Is this the right thing to do?” Both are critical precursors to taking any moral stand. Here are a few questions parents can ask that stretch your kid’s moral thinking:

“How would you feel if someone treated you that way?” “If you don’t follow through on your word, what do you think would happen?” “If everybody acted that way (i.e. cheated, shoplifted) what would happen?”

5. Boost Empathy
Kids who stick up for others are kids who feel for others. Empathy is what motivates that feeling, halts cruel behavior and urges kids to take a stand. Here are two powerful ways to nurture empathy:

  • Ask: How would you feel? Ask kids to ponder how another person feels using situations in books, TV, and movies as well as real life. It forces them to think about other peoples’ concerns.
  • Use role playing. It helps kids imagine others’ feelings so ask your child to think how the other person would feel if roles were reversed. “Switch sides: what would the other person say and do?” Young kids can use puppets or toy figures to act out the problem from both sides.

6. Reinforce Assertiveness Not Compliance
If you want to raise a child who can stand up for his beliefs, then reinforce assertiveness—not compliance. Encourage him to share his opinions and stand up for what is right. And do so from early age so he can weather the storm of negative peer influence. Parents who raise morally courageous kids expect their kids to act morally—even demand that they do.

7. Teach Assertive Skills
The truth is that it takes real moral strength to go against peer pressure and to stick up for your beliefs. So teach your child assertive skills so he can take the right kind of stand whenever he’s confronted with a moral dilemma. Here are three ways to boost moral courage:

  • Teach assertive posture. Teach your kid to stand up for his beliefs by using confident, assertive posture: stand tall with feet slightly apart, head held high, and look the person straight in the eye.
  • Say no firmly. Stress that he must say his beliefs using a friendly, but determined voice. Then don’t give in. His job is not to try changing the other person’s mind, but to follow his beliefs.
  • Tell reasons why. Ask your child to give the person the reason for his stand. It helps strengthen his conviction: “Stop bullying him; it’s cruel.” Or “No, it’s illegal and wrong.” Repeating the belief several times boosts assertiveness and helps your child not back down from his stand.

 Keep in mind that your child’s moral growth is an ongoing process that will span the course of her lifetime. The moral knowledge, beliefs, and habits you instill in her now will become the foundation she’ll use forever.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned consultant, educational psychologist and recipient of the National Educator Award who has presented workshops to over a million participants worldwide. She is a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 22 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect,The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and Building Moral Intelligence. She has appeared over 130 times on the TODAY show and is a frequent expert on national media including Dateline, The View, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Phil. To book her for speaking or media even refer to her website: www.micheleborba.com. Follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba.

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Recognizing, addressing, and preventing cyberbullying

From guest contributor, Pamela Zuber

COVID-19 has changed so much about our daily lives. If we’re lucky, we’re able to use technology to continue to work, stay informed, and keep in touch with our family and friends.

But technology can be a double-edged sword for some children and young people. While using computers, phones, and other devices allows them to attend school remotely and spend time online with their friends, it can also expose them to cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

In cyberbullying, people post hurtful things about other people online. They might post these messages through

  • Email
  • Messaging apps, text messaging, direct messaging, or instant messaging
  • Social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook
  • Online chats, gaming communities, message boards, chat rooms, or forums

Since social media and internet sites are social, others could see these messages, which could magnify the victim’s shame, embarrassment, and fear. In addition, it’s often difficult to remove some of these posts, so the messages can continue to harass a person long after a bully posted them.

Cyberbullying is particularly insidious because a bully can attack a person from anywhere or anytime. In the past, if a student threatened another student in school, the confrontation may have ended when classes ended. Now, people can use technology to start, continue, or intensify their harassment.

How can we stop cyberbullying?

As horrible as cyberbullying is, there are ways to stop it. There are many online guides that explain what cyberbullying is and how to prevent and address cyberbullying.

In addition, it might be a good idea to remind children and young people that our online lives shouldn’t be all that different from our actual lives.

We could remind them that when they post something online, the audience members reading or watching their posts are real people. They have real emotions and can be hurt by hurtful comments.

Ask them, “How would you feel if someone posted something insulting about you?” Your conversation could spur them to consider other people’s feelings and help them foster respect for others.

Keeping the lines of communication open can help if you think your children are the targets of cyberbullying. If you talk regularly with your children, they may be more likely to share their problems with you and go to you for help.

Frequent conversations can also help you notice if your children seem nervous or fearful or don’t seem like themselves, which could be clues that they’re being cyberbullied or if something else is wrong.

Communication fuels cyberbullying, but it’s also a tactic for ending it. Reinforcing kindness and respect and providing safe spaces to share can help prevent and stop cyberbullying and other harmful exchanges.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health who is interested in mental health, addiction and recovery, human rights, gender issues, and several other topics.


stopbullying.gov – What Is Cyberbullying

sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Top Tips for Preventing Cyberbullying

raycenter.wp.drake.edu – Four Ways to Nurture Kindness

Learn more about character education.