Tools For Learning

Inspiration for Parents & Educators

Create a Flexible Structure for Kids



Flexible Structure??? Oxymoron??? Not Quite!!!

Kids of all ages need structure daily. Rules give kids limits in a limitless world. In turn these rules supply the emotional security that they need everyday also. The key is to be structured without ever being rigid, and feeling protected while being spontaneous. Being flexible assures kids’ expression of individuality. Life becomes dependable when boundaries and expectations are clear. It’s important to both parents and kids to be on the “same page” with family rules! Remember though, that being flexible will benefit your parent/child relationship in many positive ways.

Do you remember the first time you were on your own, and that great feeling of freedom, and the knowledge that mom or dad were close by but not too close? It’s that balance of independence and security we are seeking when we, as parents, create a flexible structure for our kids. A strong, happy, and livable home gives your young ones a safe and consistent base, so that they can travel from home and come back again feeling rooted and secure.

Make no mistake about it! This important structure that we create for our kids will be tested, stressed, and sometimes even shaken. Thats why it must be flexible. For children to be resilient the family system has to be predictable yet pliable for them to be able to move back and forth with life’s success, failures, disappointments, joys, and even surprises. It is a parents’ honor to create a flexible structure for kids, one that is allowed to bend and move with your family’s needs and the changes that are surely to come.

Structure and flexibility are partners in great parenting. Structure is the foundation of your kids’ environment. Rules ensure the guidelines for staying within the framework. Flexibility assures your acceptance of your kids’ feelings, ideas, intuition, intellect, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, and comfort level too. You are truly validating them with a structured but flexible home life.

Finding the perfect blend of structure and flexibility is not easy! Kids keep developing and life keeps changing. The best way to know if things are going in a positive direction is to listen to your kids and observe their behavior. Ask them how they feel, and keep a watchful eye as they play, work, study, and daydream. The realization that their answers may sometimes upset your established routine may be daunting. My advice to you is to: ASK ANYWAY!  In the long run the entire family will be glad that you did! Many blessings along the way.

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How to Apologize to Your Kids


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How to apologize to your kids is sometimes a touchy subject for moms and dads. I think it would be remiss of me, though, if I ignored it or sloughed over it. As good parents that we are, we teach our children to act in acceptable ways by helping them understand what their mistakes are, make amends for the repercussions, and then plan to avoid the faux pas in the future.

Shouldn’t the same pattern apply to us when we make a parenting mistake??????

Perhaps we yelled in a loud voice. Perhaps we took toys away before really listening to our kids’ side of the story. Perhaps we ignored their pleas to be heard. Even the best parents, at some point, make mistakes.

Believe me, it won’t hurt your authority over your family one bit to gather up your crying child, give her a big hug and, offer a heartfelt apology. Your young ones respect and love for you in this instance will not be undone because you sincerely admit you made a mistake. On the contrary, it will be made stronger and strengthen your already great relationship. By offering a genuine apology, you are modeling humility and validating any confusion and pain they are experiencing.

Follow these short and easy steps if you are in need of some help when the need arises for how to apologize to your kids.

1. Take them aside, and genuinely tell them you are sorry.

2. Explain that you over reacted, and that your action was wrong.

3. Reassure them that you love them, and that you want to be a good parent.

4. Ask for their forgiveness.

Apologizing to your children takes strength, confidence, and humility. You are giving them a beautiful gift when you reconcile with your kids. You are showing them that they are valuable, and they are worthy of an apology. Their self-esteem will blossom as a result. You are also setting an example that teaches them to apologize to others. Think of the benefits for their future careers, marriages, and families. Habits of honesty and forgiveness will lead to a more peaceful environment at home. The choice is up to you, now, mom and dad!


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Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eyes

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Have you ever reflected on how your child sees the world? Have you ever wondered how she feels when she asks you to play with her? I’ve often thought of these things lately with my 2 little, precious, granddaughters. I don’t think I ever much thought about how my grown  son was seeing his world through a child’seyes….I was too busy doing all the things a working mom had to do, and had little time to be reflective. But now I wish I was, way back then. I would have learned from it all and probably would have done some things differently.  I’m so thankful that I have the time and wisdom to explore these ideas with my grandchildren now.

Truthfully, the only real way to know for sure how kids feel about things is to ask them! Most parents believe they know what’s best for their children. While that may be true to a greater extent, experts like John Gottman, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Washington, has suggested that kids should have a say. He offers the idea that parents should resist the urge to correct children and steer them in the direction they  think they should go all the time.

What is the most effective way to do this? Think about how you would feel if you were in your child’s situation. If you want to understand how your child feels when she can’t find her blanket, think how you would fee if your credit card or iPhone was lost. You’d be quite upset, I’m sure!

Ask your kids more questions and avoid unnecessary battles. Take for example the scenario when you tell your daughter to put her toys away before dinner and she quickly says: “NO”! Instead of jumping to the conclusion ask her why she doesn’t want to put his toys away before dinner.  I experienced this scene of events recently with my 4 year old granddaughter, and she said that she wanted to play with them after dinner before she watches her show before bedtime. The problem was solved when we were on the “same page”. Most kids know what they want, and are willing to clue parents and grandparents in when they are just asked.

Another, great “rule of thumb” is to give children choices. I had much success with this strategy with my son and granddaughter. She seems to thrive on choices! As kids are given more choices they are able to learn from their mistakes. They are also forced to think through a situation and come to a decision. Kids will be better prepared for life if you allow them to make some decisions at an early age. What would happen if they make a wrong choice, but, also, think what would happen if they make the right choice?

It’s not the easiest thing for a parent to allow their children to learn for themselves. They want to protect their kids and keep them safe for sure but  be a bit more flexible! Keep in mind that your kids are living, breathing human beings with feelings, needs, and wants, Give your children the respect  that you demand from them in return.

Practice seeing the world through a child’s eyes! You’ll be amazed at the changes you will both experience and appreciate!

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Kids running across yard --- Image by © Artiga Photo/Corbis

When we’re young we see the world as our spirit directs – with all our senses – and it is magic!

Make it your priority to add magic to the ordinary for your kids. Many adults have lost this enchantment and search everywhere for happiness, peace, and fulfillment. Countless hours are spent in therapists’ offices in an attempt to find that magic that was lost somewhere in the past.

The magic exists right now in your children. By inviting them to see the magic in the ordinary, you strengthen their spirits so that it lives forever in their lives. When they reach adulthood, your kids will have no need to search outside themselves for something to make them happy.  The extraordinary is in the ordinary for children. They don’t need a parade, an action packed movie, or the latest 3-D video game to make them happy.

We shortchange kids by assuming they must have every princess gown or the latest model electric car, when even the simplest time or activity can be magical. High tech toys, computers, and other electronic devices can dull imagination and creativity. The 30 second picture sound bites on TV with fast, vibrant colors, and up beat music, seduce our kids.  Add magic to the ordinary and try to keep things simple, and allow your young ones to be in charge of the magic in their own way.

You’ll be amazed at what kids say and do when they’re  left to their own imagination when all is quiet in their playroom. While babysitting my 3 1/2 year old granddaughter yesterday , she asked for some ribbon and scissors. At first, she wanted to make bows, so we did that for a while. When she cut a long piece of ribbon, she asked me to tie it around her head. She looked into the mirror and said she looked like Pocahontas. Then we role played, Pocahontas helping and guiding  Captain John Smith down an unknown river. She used her imagination and enjoyed some creative play all the while surrounded by many and elaborate store bought princess gowns, and castles. She even built a house for them out of plastic cups which she decorated with the ribbons and bows that were made earlier.


We can “catch” some of the magic from our children and grandchildren and reignite our own spirits. Parenting becomes a magical journey when we allow enchantment to infuse us. Remember to be good to yourself, and give yourself special quiet times in the form of books, friends, ceremony,ritual. nature, song, and/or dance. Use whatever fills your heart with harmony, for it’s hard to make magic for others when we don’t experience it ourselves.

Ask the universe to supply you with  little zest today, and remain alert to the amazing wonder in your life. Children share their joy effortlessly, and it infuses all those open to accepting the magic. Make it a priority today to add magic to the ordinary for yourself and your kids. Take the lead from your precious children. They’ll show you how!

Observe what interests your children and you will find that it isn’t necessarily what you may think of as “toys”.  Children will play with branches, leaves, rocks, seashells, bedsheets, pots, boxes, yarn,  and other ordinary things. These objects combined with the parents’ reinforcing, joyful attitude, give kids open-end opportunities for creative play. Exploring in this way enhances their imagination and uniqueness. The everyday becomes magical when they can respond to their environment in whatever way they decide. Your kids then are active participants in life, instead of passive recipients of what some grown-up designer or TV producer has determined they should enjoy. When kids are in charge of their own play, it is filled with magic of their own making.










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The ‘New’ Parent Trap

grandpa Parenthood s a tough gig and there is little time to rest or relax. It’s completely normal to feel trapped with no visible means of escape but don’t get caught in the ‘new’ parent trap. New parents are often caught in an invisible ‘new’ parent trap! It is hard for them to ask for help. Asking for support in your parenting duties  can make you feel that you’re shirking your duties. You’re especially likely to feel this way if your partner heads off to work each day. When you ask for help from others, you put yourself out there and take a risk. If you don’t, however, you miss the opportunity to connect with others and relieve some of your built up stress. Feeling isolated only compounds the stress of new parenthood. Babies and toddlers pick up on signals that you are stressed, and their cranky, irritable response only makes you more stressed. And the cycle goes on…..on….. Free yourself from this ‘new’ parent” trap. Letting others pitch in,  you to regain a sense of personal balance and well-being. Sharing the load is good for others too. When family and friends get a chance to help out, they feel good, also. It’s a win-win situation.  Free Yourself! * You need to care for yourself in order to care for kids. * Say “YES” to offers of assistance, even if you don’t need help at the moment. * Divvy up chores in a way that suits you and your partner and rotate responsibility for tasks no one likes. That way no one gets stuck with them forever. * Be specific about what you need. It sets others up for success. * Let go of your need to have things done just right. Good is good enough! * Appreciate the help you receive even if it falls short of what you wanted. * Remember to say “Thank You” and sound like you mean it.  FREEDOM IS REALLY SWEET!

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Your Young Child Is Not Your “Friend”

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Your young child is not your “friend”!  


My son was not my “friend” in his growing up years. He wasn’t always happy with my role as a “take charge” parent, and the decisions that I made, but we survived! More than that, our roles now are quite wonderful and different. We have a friendship of mutual love, trust, and respect. When he was young, I structured my role, as did, his dad, to be determined to be responsible parents, even if, our son didn’t always like how we handled things.

My son, as an adult now, is my friend! It hasn’t always been that way. When he was growing up I loved him to the moon and back but with all my education and experience I knew my important functional role at the time was to be his parent and not his “friend”. It wasn’t always easy. I wanted him to be happy and to like me, but I, also, wanted more for him: to mature into a responsible, moral, intelligent, emotionally secure person. I am happy to say that all is well that ends well! 

Parents and kids are genetically geared to love each other, and it is truly a beautiful thing. There is a purely emotional part of the parent/child relationship and there is also a functional role to parenting. The emotional side reflects a mother’s love when she holds, feeds, and bathes her infant. One without the other would be harmful to the child. If the child was only loved as an infant, and the functional aspects were at risk, the child would be harmed and neglected. Functional care without love would have long term negative effects on a child’s emotional development. These two parenting roles go hand in hand, and one shouldn’t be emphasized the cost of the other.

As kids get older, the parent’s role tends to become more functional, and less emotional which is hard for parents who, especially, want to be their kids’ best “friend”. As part of the functional role that is needed as children grow, limits must be set. Limit setting is very healthy. It’s how  kids learn how to figure out what’s safe and what’s not, what’s appropriate, and what’s not. This functional role changes for parents as kids gets older. With a one year old, it’s changing diapers. With a seven year old, the functional role involves getting homework done correctly. With a sixteen year old, it involves a curfew.

I think it’s very important to mention here that you as a great, responsible parent who definitely has both the functional and emotional role intact, to consider that there is another necessary step in raising your youngsters. The key to fostering the greatest relationship with your children is having a sound rapport with your kids during the growing years. For some examples: Homework must be done. Support of teachers and classroom rules is a given….and your kids expect no less from you while not always liking the demands put on them. That’s the type of mutual understanding you need to have with your youngsters so when they’re all grown up you all can, and will enjoy the most wonderful friendship you could ever imagine. It’s worth waiting for!

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Leaders in the Making


Observing my 3 1/2 year old granddaughter playing with her friends during a recent visit, made something very clear to me: 3 and 4 year old children are born leaders in the making. Although their sometimes strong wills can exhaust moms and dads, they are natural leaders in the making when it comes to decision making.  These youngsters are opinionated, bossy, and they know what they want and when they want it – even if it’s chocolate milk for every meal. Their overbearing, demanding nature, if channeled appropriately, can help them grow into confident adults that others look up to.

So how do you direct your future CEO? The most important and helpful strategy is to provide kids at this age with choices whenever possible. “Would you like pizza or mac & cheese for lunch?” “Do you want to clean up the playroom before or after dinner?” Making these small decisions helps kids FEEL more in control while not really being IN control. As we all know that Master or Miss Assertive are happiest when they can call all the shots.

Leaders in the making also think outside of the sandbox. Painting on the coffee table instead of on the paper provided, or digging up mom’s flowers and giving them as a gift, may not seem like acts of genius, but 3 and 4 year olds have their own unique way of looking at life. They are individuals without inhibitions and are abounding with creativity. The best possible outlet for their passion is to provide a “free to create space” of your choosing that can handle the best and quickest clean-up possible. Your creative youngsters then can express themselves without causing lasting damage. Most importantly, these unrestrained moments of creative play give your young ones the independence they really desire. They also provide kids with the vehicle to build their confidence, and helps them to settle down when it’s time to do other things, or to calm down, especially, before  bedtime.

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Take Responsibility for Your Words

Mother daughter relationships are special

Over the last few weeks while shopping for holiday gifts for my granddaughters, I was taken back more than a couple of times, by the use of words and tone taken by moms and dads to their young children.

WORDS ARE POWERFUL! Are you accountable for your words? Are your words harsh or are they positive and instructive? Do your kids really understand your words in a tirade? Be clear with your words, Say what you mean and give reasons why. Double check that your kids understand your intention.

Be understanding when you listen to your kids. Don’t jump to conclusions without becoming clear on what they are telling you. Take the time to understand their words, just as you take the time to make sure they understand yours.

Use questions in place of dogmatic demands. Controlling, scolding, threatening words create frightened children. Turn things around with gentle questions, and you then allow your kids to maintain their dignity. Instead of instructing your kids to “Do this” or “Do that”, ask them the best way to settle the situation. “Why do you think I ask you to wash your hands before dinner?” “How do you think Devon would feel if she wasn’t invited to your birthday party? “Why do you think you need to wear a helmet and knee pads when your learning to skate?”

Take responsibility for your words. Change your speech habits. If you use negative words, catch yourself. Count how many times you say “don’t” or “no” to your young ones. Say “don’t or “no” out loud to yourself and experience the feeling. These words can push away the spirit out of any situation. Of course you need to use firm words in times of danger or in emergencies, but habitual “no’s” begin to wear away your kids self-esteem and dampen their spirits.

How often we all blurt out a “no” out of habit. “Mom, I’d like to make a picture for dad with my new paints.” “No, sweetie, not now, it’s too messy.” It would only take a few minutes to clean up the mess, and it will bring great joy to your child to create something original. Dad will be so pleased to receive that precious gift,also. And you’ll be glad that Dad and your little one are happy. “Dad, Let’s have a snack, I’m hungry now. “No, it’s almost time for dinner” Really, what would it hurt if your kid just had a little fruit snack or one cracker if he’s really hungry? I don’t mean that this situation should continue daily but once in a while it won’t be harmful. Be more flexible. The world won’t end because you relaxed your rules for once and the best part: Everybody wins!

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20 Positve Things to Say To Kids

MaryAnn with kids cropped

After all these years I still remember the words of encouragement and positive words of advice my mom gave to me when I was young: “Only you can make you happy.” “Make your own good time.” “When did you get so smart?” “Stick with it!” “Think BIG!” “Be proud of yourself.” “Go for it!”

You never know the words that your kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Words have great power. You can choose to add more positive words in your life and give your kids a great gift. Coming up with a few positive words can be the ones your dear youngsters will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

May the following positive words inspire you to turn to your kids and say something like:

1. You make me smile.

2. You are my best friend.

3. I love you to the moon and back.

4. You are creative.

5. You are strong.

6. Your choices matter.

7. You are so sweet and kind.

8. You are growing and learning so much.

9. You make a difference in my life.

10. I am proud of you.

11. I enjoy your company.

12. Thank You for being you.

13. Thank you for being my daughter/son.

14. I’m listening.

15. It’s fun to do things with you.

16. I’m so excited to see what you’ll do.

17. It’s great to spend time with you.

18. You are beautiful inside and out.

19. You are smart.

20 You are important.

Years from now when you kids need some encouragement, guidance, and/or love they’ll hear your voice and the positive words that they heard when they were young saying: “I have faith in you”. “Follow your heart.” You can handle it.” You are smart.” “You are important.” “Above all, YOU ARE LOVED!”

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A Parent’s Goal: Competent Kids

High Five

I’m sure you want to provide experiences so that your young ones can succeed and become competent kids. Here’s how….first, offer new challenges and comment on positive attempts. Always acknowledge your kids’ effort toward a goal even if the goal was not attained or reached to your expectations. Some great pointers are to give your young ones ideas how to accomplish tasks. Demonstrate the steps for them. Then have them complete the process all by themselves. Remember to supply plenty of practice time if needed. All these steps will lead your child to feeling more positive and belonging to the Competent Kids’ Club.

It is extremely beneficial to acknowledge kids’ efforts and the meeting of their expectations rather than to praise a specific task. For example, when kids have completed a task (homework, cleaning their bedroom or playroom, setting the table) guide them in their thinking about how the job was carried out. Does it show progress in comparison to last time? Are their ways to improve the process? The goal here is to help young ones to learn, grow, and make sound decisions with or without others around. They will also feel good about themselves without constant praise or recognition. They in turn will feel a worthy member of the Competent Kids’ Club as they succeed in learning challenges.


1. Give kids age appropriate jobs. Their achievement of regular chores will help them develop a sense of responsibility and the knowledge that they’re contributing to family activities.
2. For kids who have difficulty with organization or memory, set out everything needed to accomplish their daily or weekly jobs without nagging or frustration on your part.
3. Let your kids’ teachers know of a special talent, knowledge, or expertise that they possess. Kids love when their teachers and classmates appreciate their uniqueness and ask them questions in a scheduled show and tell.
4. Let your kids lead. Join them in activities that they enjoy. Ask them what they’d like to play and enjoy how that process unfolds. You’ll be delighted and so will they!
5. This one’s a no-brainer, but we often forget to do it: Tell your kids you like them! Give a couple of reasons why you like them. Watch what happens!

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