Practical Procedures for Preschooler

Earlier I wrote about some ways you can stimulate the mind of your preschooler – meaning any child between the ages of two and seven.

Before we move on to the elementary student’s brain, let’s go over some practical ways you can prepare and perfect the home or learning environment for your preschooler.

1. Create a small adult child-adult ratio whether one-on-one with a parent or a preschool setting where the teacher has the ability and freedom to monitor and interact with each child.

2. Provide opportunities for language stimulation. This can be done in a number of ways, including:

  • talking with children about their play ( ask questions that encourage them to expand on their details and then listen carefully)
  • linking language with sensory aspects of play (“How does that glitter feel on the paper?”)
  • encouraging them to make simple decisions (“What color paper would you like to use?”) and then some basic self-evaluation (“Why did you choose to draw that?” or “How did you do on that activity?”).

3. Cultivate a kind, gentle, orderly, and predictable climate at home and in the classroom.

  • Be consistent and reasonable with your rules
  • Provide emotional stability for the child(ren)
  • Give plenty of encouragement but try to focus more on effort/process (“You worked so hard on that!”) than ability/outcome (“You’re so smart/fast, you won!”)
  • Help children become sensitive to the emotions of others by discussing the effects of certain causes (“That made Tommy very happy when you shared with him” or “Lilly is sad today because her grandma is sick”)

4. Make time for free play in which the child is allowed to take the lead, make decisions, and learn to deal with mistakes in a safe setting.

5. Balance free play with structured play experiences as groups or one-on-one with you. Sometimes you can center the activities for the week around a theme. What matters most is not the finished product but the process itself.

6. Get children actively involved!

  • Provide plenty of sensory stimulation and opportunities for exploration with their fingers, arms, legs, and bodies
  • Avoid workbooks to whatever degree possible (depending on child’s age) in exchange for meaningful learning activities they are engaged in with their senses
  • Keep electronics to a minimum. According to Dr. Jane Healy, occupational therapists are now treating many “video kids” who have missed out on some of the most basic motor patterning and the attention skills and intellectual growth that accompany it
  • Use materials that refine motor skills such as finger paints, clay, Play-Doh, construction paper, glue, water, etc.
  • Do activities that need practice to improve on: cutting paper, throwing a ball, using utensils. The game “Simon Says” can help here and also forces children to pay attention and practice self-control!
  • Basic household “chores” are a lot of fun for children to model: gardening, cleaning dishes, cooking, working with “tools.”
  • Puzzles are a tried-and-true activity that provide wonderful visual and motor practice for children

7. Help children look for patterns and sequences whenever they arise naturally in the external world and provide activities that require them to notice relationships between objects (like stacking blocks, arranging by size, sequencing events in order, or categorizing by color)

8. READ, READ, THEN READ SOME MORE! Reading challenges the mind in so many ways. It helps children develop cause-and-effect connections, gives both visual and auditory stimulation, provides patterns to follow, excites their imaginations, and allows an opportunity to spend quality time with the caregiver. You can never go wrong here!

9. Provide time for rest, quiet, and downtime. The brain needs these times to process all the new information it is learning, and the brain needs sleep in order to commit things to memory and come back stronger for more stimulation. If the child never has time to rest and be quiet, their brain will actually weaken with new input.

10. Be patient and let children make mistakes! It is less important how fast children learn than how far!

God’s word reminds us that children learn in different ways. The most important thing is to provide a variety of ways for them to learn and for you to be involved in this amazing process as they learn, grow, and develop!


How to Stimulate Your Child’s Growing Mind

This past month I had the joyful experience of driving to Minnesota with my daughter’s family, which included my grandchildren: Keagan (5), Hudson (almost 3), and Charlotte Grace (9 months).

The children got to run around and explore my brother’s 165 acre farm, and I loved watching these city kids trulyexperience cows, horses, climbing up into tree houses, and playing in fields and, yes, even Indian teepees. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I watched them happily playing and learning from dawn to dusk.

Then we drove another 15 hours to Colorado where my husband was playing concerts with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in the Gerald Ford Amphitheater next to the Betty Ford Gardens. (here are some pictures from my recent newsletter)

Once again these young children had the glorious opportunity to experience listening to classical music while being outside in the mountains and then playing in gardens rich with the tapestry of flowers and waterfalls. We even went up into the mountains where they experienced the cold chill and wind. The hills were truly alive with the sounds of nature and music!

Frankly, I didn’t want to put them back into the car to spend another 15 hours driving back to Texas for ‘boring’ city life after these amazing experiences with God’s glorious creation! Grandma’s swimming pool and gardens pale in comparison. The trip reminded me of how children learn best and sadly, how children are often learning incompletely today.

Children learn through their five senses: they need to touch, smell, hear, taste, and truly have a sensory bath as they interact and explore. Instead, we put them in front of televisions or video games which rob them of the wondrous way their brains were created to function.

Yes, Dr. Myers and I are still working on our book The Miracle of the Mind of the Child. At some point, we will have to finally quit the joy of researching this extraordinarily fascinating topic and simply get the book over the finish line. For example, I just read “This Is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J. Levitin and now I want to add information from that book into our book!

Music and the minds of children…two of my favorite subjects! Do you feel another blog ready to be birthed soon? I do! Especially after listening to the DSO play such exquisite music from Beethoven, Mozart, Prokofiev, Brahms, Shubert, Gershwin, and one of my favorites, “Symphony No. 8 in C Minor” by Anton Bruckner.

My time with my grandchildren inspired me to devote a few weeks’ posts to discussing the importance of stimulating a child’s brain — at each age level — so let’s take a little refresher course on Brain Basics 101.


Babies are remarkable, aren’t they? Also incredible is that their development process begins months before they are even born! Anyone who has been around a child can attest to the amazing realization that new and exciting changes take place daily during the first few years of life.

Part of the responsibility of the parents, then, is to do all they can to stimulate the environment for that child’s rapidly developing brain.

However, simply opening the brain-stimulation floodgates is not the wisest approach. As is so often true in life, we need to proceed with balance, moderation, and informed decisions.


Yes, I know it is summer, but let’s stretch our brains a little and educate ourselves about the brain. Are you ready for your Brain 101 class?

For today, let’s discuss the cerebral cortex and the crucial role it plays in your child’s brain development. Interestingly enough, the major areas of this part of our brain develop in a manner that actually provides a kind of navigation system that teaches parents how to provide the proper stimulation during each period of growth.

The external, demonstrable developmental map follows the internal, physical developmental map. In other words, behavior follows the brain.

First comes the occipital lobe, which deals with vision. Then comes the parietal lobe, which is concerned with touch and spatial understanding. Next, the temporal lobe centers on the auditory aspects of hearing, such as language development and musical ability. Finally, the frontal lobes develop last, with the motor cortexplanning and regulating body movement while the prefrontal cortex (which develops far into adolescence and adulthood) handles reasoning, memory, self-control, attention, planning, and judgment.

By using this development pattern within the brain, we can better decide how to properly stimulate our child’s environment.

As you read, keep in mind the advice given by Dr. Jane Healy in her excellent book Your Child’s Growing Mind: “Your overall goal should not be to ‘teach’ your baby, but to help him or her discover how to organize experiencefor themselves.”


This post will focus on babies and build from here to older children in posts that will follow. But the same guiding principle will remain true: you don’t need expensive toys to accomplish the necessary stimulation your child desires and thrives on — all you need is a loving parent/adult to help the child learn to navigate the complexities of their environment.

Most input for the infant is through the visual and motor systems. The baby must learn how to coordinate their seemingly random movements, from arms to eyes to legs. The order of development is important here, as mouth, eyes, arms, and hands come before legs and feet. Also, concrete, physical learning with the body ought to come before abstract learning. For example, stacking blocks come before counting with flash cards!

Stimulations such as bathing, touching, gentle tickling, patting, peekaboo, and stroking children with a variety of pleasant textures — velvet, feathers, cotton, etc. — are excellent means for helping the baby learn to control and develop their sense of movement and touch.

Exploring the world through gross motor skills also requires the right process of developmental stimulation. For example, placing children in walkers before adequate “tummy time” can have lasting negative effects down the road. Also, once a child learns to walk, it is important to allow them to do so as often as possible, even if it is slower than a stroller. Passively watching the world go by is not nearly as developmentally stimulating as exploring, investigating, and making connections by walking around, even side-to-side, which later helps with reading comprehension and math skills.

You may want to try this: “walk” around a familiar environment on your knees which will give you an entirely different perspective. For the baby, every thing is something to see, touch, explore, and learn about! As adults we often see life from a different perspective when we are with little ones because we notice things we have become desensitized to in our busy lives, and of course, at a different height.

With visual stimulation, one or two objects are plenty for the developing infant. In fact, a crib full of toys only overwhelms the child. Also, both novelty and familiarity are important. A balance between new stimulus, which a baby loves, and familiar objects provide a solid foundation for learning new things about the environment while deepening their understanding of other objects.

Another great tool is on occasion to combine visual stimulus with auditory or tactile stimulus. For example, slowly move an object while softly talking about it or making a sound, or combining interesting color contrasts with varying appealing textures. Such approaches help the child integrate sensory experience as they learn to focus on more than one sensory modality at a time.

Balance these multi-sensory experiences with those that only focus on one sensory input at a time, too. Again, overloading a child does not give more, it only takes away.

When it comes to auditory stimulus, a variety of soothing, pleasant, and interesting sounds are vital — one at a time. In fact, too much background noise — the dishwasher, music, television — makes sound discrimination difficult for babies, which can be detrimental to development. Monitor the sound level of their environment, and realize that even children’s television programs often are far too noisy for baby brains. A word to the wise is being careful to not have the television on too much. Your baby is absorbing everything and most is inappropriate for a baby.

Here is a note on pleasant tones and voices. If the human sounds around the infant are too loud and unpleasant, a baby may actually learn to tune them out. This later causes problems at school and in conversation. Replace those sounds with nursery rhymes, songs, and words that are soft, soothing, and loving.

Of course, reading books together is a tried-and-true method, much better than flash cards, for it helps a child develop a love of reading through positive associations with a loving lap, a parent’s enjoyment, and custom-tailored responses to the child’s interests.

Lastly, carry on conversations with your child. Language is learned early on, and as I wrote here, it cannot be learned from a TV, it must be from a live human, preferably a parent or loving caregiver.


The implications here for older children abound, as you probably already can see for yourself. We will develop these ideas in coming installments, as well as come back from time-to-time on the importance of a proper foundation in these vital infant years. If you have questions, feel free to email me at or ask via Twitter.

Rest, Relax…and READ!

I love the Cesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer.”

One reason I do is because he insists on dogs being in calm states of mind before he will give them what they want, be it a treat, their food dish, or a nice long walk through the neighborhood.

I think the same values apply to humans, especially children: when they are in calm states of mind, they are able to concentrate so much better. Their behavior improves, their learning capacity increases, and they feel much more balanced, just as Cesar’s dogs do.


At Grace Academy, we have certain summer reading requirements. As a classical school, we want to cultivate the love of reading as well as the ability to read good books. We don’t want books that will dominate the summer schedule, but rather ones that encourage kids to read and remind parents of the importance of reading.

Not only does it do wonders for the brain, but reading also takes us to a calm but focused state of being.

That’s why we can love a book but still fall asleep reading it! It’s not “boring,” but it allows us to enter a very deep relaxation that our busy lives rarely allow.

We need to have regular times when we enter this relaxed state of being. And the same is true for children.


With reading, I like to remind parents that each child progresses at their own rate. So don’t feel anxious if your child takes longer to finish a book or reads less over the summer. Simply cherish the fact that your child is reading!

It’s not a competition, and you don’t want your child to pick up on your anxiety and develop a fear of reading; instead, books are to be experienced and enjoyed.

Reading together further provides needed relationship building between a parent and child. Just as Cesar points out that long walks with a dog fulfill their primal need to migrate and follow a leader, so, too, does reading fulfill a deep need in children to explore their imaginations, learn about human behavior, experience the structure of a well-crafted narrative, and appreciate the uniquely human power of language!

Summer reading is not “school at home.” It is an opportunity to enjoy one of the truly amazing human capacities: to plunge into a book, read until you fall asleep, and then wake up and continue reading!


You may find some good book suggestions from our Grace Academy of North Texas summer reading lists. They are formatted for being printed as brochures, so don’t let the layout confuse you! Enjoy!

Helping Kids Learn to Remember

Would you believe me if I told you that there are such things as memory championships here in the United States in which competitors memorize 1400 random binary digits in under thirty minutes and compete to see who can memorize a shuffled deck of 52 cards fastest?

What if I told you that these people are not savants but have brain structures and capacities on par with the average person?

What if I told you that you could learn to do the same feats of memory…and so could your children and students??  

Maybe you could believe the first two but not the last one, right? I mean, teachers struggle to get children to learn a few historical dates, and parents would love it if their child could simply remember to make their own bed!

Surely this can’t be true…can it?  

Well, it is true. As Joshua Foer explains in his wonderful TED talk, we all have the capability of remembering significant amounts more than we ever give ourselves credit for today.


The short answer is: nowhere. We still have the power to train our minds to perform incredible feats of memory.

As Joshua discovered, by using tricks such as the Memory Palace, human beings can begin to make deeper and more significant connections within the brain that enable us to make memories that last.

The key is making connections and associations within the brain. Our brains are not like file cabinets or folders on a computer hard drive.  

Instead, everything in the brain is connected to something else. The reason you won’t forget your child’s name (without some major physical trauma, of course) is not simply because your child is important to you. It is because you have made thousands and thousands of other connections to your child that have become interwoven together.  

Picture a huge fishing net or a gigantic knot in a string and you will begin to understand how the brain is structured.

The lesson here is this: the more connections, the more anchored the memory is. And we make more connections when we involve the senses and/or make a strong impression.


Ancient Greeks and Romans used various memory devices to remember poems, important information, and public speeches.

As Joshua Foer explains, most of these techniques, now being used and adapted today at these memory championships, involve spatial and visual navigation.

To illustrate his point, Foer begins his talk with a bizarre story full of memorable images. Later he explains how that story was his own memory device for recalling his speech that day.

The more the senses can become involved, the longer the lessons lasts and the more connections are made.

That’s why teaching with learning styles helps: not only does it make connections in each child’s “language,” but it also gives each child additional ways to embed that knowledge into their brains permanently.

As fellow TED presenter Brenda Brathwaite explains, games can be used to further involve children in learning that helps them appreciate more the significance of what occurred in the past or is occurring today so that they remember it longer and act on that knowledge.

As she explains in her entertaining talk, her daughter came home one day having just learned about the Middle Passage, a very dark time in U.S. history. And while her daughter could recall the factual details, she could not appreciate the significance of this horrific period.

So Brenda had her daughter paint some simple wood pieces that resembled board game pieces so that they formed families. Then they played “The Middle Passage” game, which Brenda invented. During the game, families were split apart, and some pieces died.

This wasn’t your usual game, and I encourage you to watch the video to learn more. But by the end of the game, Brenda, her husband, and her daughter were all in tears. The game had been able to communicate what the school lesson had not.  

Since then, Brenda has created other games to help with understanding and better appreciating major historical events, such as The Holocaust.

I am sure that her daughter, and children who play these games, won’t be so quick to dismiss or forget these formerly abstract facts any longer. 


My son made an interesting observation the other day. He told me how he and another teacher were joking with their students about how “back in their day” they didn’t have cell phones, so they had to memorize girls’ phone numbers!

Today, we don’t have to memorize numbers, we have phones. And we don’t have to memorize dates, we have Google and Wikipedia. And we don’t have to write down or remember recipes, we can bookmark them.

Is this a bad thing? No. And yes.

On the one hand, it makes our modern world possible.  

On the other, we lose something about ourselves in this process, a topic wonderfully tackled in the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.  

And as Joshua Foer points out, we all have the capacity to remember much more if only we would challenge ourselves to get more from our memory.

His proof? The year after he covered the Memory Championship as a writer, he returned as a competitor…and won!  

But his point in his talk, and mine here, too, is not that with some memory tricks we can all win some competitions.

The more significant point is that these “memory tricks work because they make us work.”

This especially matters for our children. If we want them to learn, we must make our lessons memorable. We must engage their senses and make abstract facts meaningful, as Brenda did for her daughter.

When we pay attention, become deeply engaged, and experience facts beyond abstraction, we not only remember things better but we become changed by them.

Let’s expect more of ourselves and challenge our children’s memory capacities in interesting ways. Let’s spend more time exercising our brains and our memories. Let’s create healthy brains that will remain sharper and stronger as we age.

So much of who each one of us is is directly tied to our memories. So let’s make sure we are exercising that crucial part of all of us.

Discipline By Design Series – Part 12 of 12 – Creating a Climate for Success

We’re finally here. Part 12 of 12 in our “Discipline By Design Series.”

We’ve covered learning styles and personalities, various ages, specific developmental problems, and the more difficult discipline issues that can arise.

For this last issue, I want to discuss how the climate of your home or classroom plays a major role in either increasing or decreasing your discipline problems.

Now, I’m not saying that the following principles will completely eliminate your discipline issues. But if you remember from the beginning of this series, I have stressed that discipline is not about punishing wrong actions but creating an environment and atmosphere that encourages right behavior.

The best compliment I ever receive as Head of School is when a prospective or current family says to me, “There is just something different about this school. The climate is so peaceful, warm, and inviting. We love it here.”

As The School Whisperer, I know it takes a lot of careful planning and work to cultivate the school climate you want. But it’s essential.

The same is just as true for the home. The climate you create helps point children in the right direction. Will they still stray from the path at times? Of course. They’re children, and part of their development is to test you and and see what happens.

But with the right climate, they know where to return.

Below are some general guidelines you can incorporate into your home or classroom to help cultivate the climate you want for your children:

  • Have high standards for children and trust that with the right instruction and encouragement, they will meet those standards for good behavior, manners, and respect.
  • Communicate your rules clearly. Nothing is worse than children who are willing to follow your lead…if only they knew what you expected of them.
  • Keep most guidelines general and broad. Don’t micromanage every single possible action or decision. Instead, make rules like “Keep your hands to yourself” and “Be respectful of others.” When you see a violation, don’t let your first reaction be to punish them. Instead, gently remind them of the rule and show them how their action broke the rule, which they might not have realized at first.
  • Don’t negotiate. Once you have gently reminded someone of a rule, there need to be logical consequences.
  • Be open to suggestions. This is another reason to keep the rules general – it allows you to listen to input from your students and children. Getting them involved helps them invest in the climate with you, making you partners, not combatants.
  • Make sure you create as warm and nurturing a climate as possible. Obviously each person has their own personality, so don’t think I mean every parent needs to become mushy and each teacher ought to give twenty hugs a day to every student. What this does mean is that children need to know you care and respect them as individuals. How you demonstrate that will depend on your personality. Just remember that there are different personalities which need different types of communication.
  • Be encouraging. Take interest in children’s accomplishments and be balanced in your praise. Don’t simply praise talent, but emphasize effort as often as possible. Be specific in your comments so children see the cause-and-effect relationship between their actions and the outcome. And, please, don’t give imbalanced amounts of praise to different children but be encouraging toward everyone.
  • Take personal responsibility for what goes on. Don’t blame administration or the grandparents or the school or anyone else. Instead, be proactive in finding solutions to any issues that pop up.
  • Partner with your parent/teacher to form a healthy working relationship so that your child has consistent rules and expectations.
  • Finally, remember that the key to discipline isn’t being tough or mean. It’s about relationships. By showing that you care, are willing to listen, and are fair, you will have already won the battle for most issues. With a little more work, you can conquer even the toughest discipline issues you face.

Blessings to you, your families, and your students and schools as you incorporate these 12 lessons into your own unique approaches. I have always been a believer in blending models and using the best I find from each one. I hope you have found some tools here that you can use.

You can also order the full DVD series and workbook here, or I can visit your school or parent group if you would like to have me come as a guest speaker. Just email me at

If you missed any lessons or just want a refresher (almost every guideline listed today above was covered in more detail in the previous 11 parts), just start over here with Part One and move your way through.

You do the most important two jobs in the world, so keep that in mind the next time your little angels are giving you a hard time!

Discipline By Design Series – Part 11 of 12 – Building Parent-Teacher Relationships Where Everybody Wins

In parts 1-5 we discussed how to use the design and unique personality of each child to best reach him or her. Parts 6-10 discussed discipline issues that must be addressed at each different stage of development.

Our final two parts discuss where the two worlds of the parent and the teacher come together: parent-teacher relationships and each part’s role in helping create a successful school climate.


Parents and teachers share a unique partnership in that they both love and want the best for the same children. When this partnership is clicking and gelling, it makes life so much easier and better for everyone, especially the children.

When the relationship doesn’t work, though, it adds chaos and confusion for everyone — again, especially the children.

At one time, our society accepted that the primary responsibility for raising children belonged to the parents. Today, however, many families are hurried, harried, and just hanging on.

Thus, they have delegated part of the parental responsibility to the government, school, or caregivers. Teachers play an increasingly important role, then, in the lives of the children they see everyday.

The goal is for the teacher to work in harmony with the parent, supporting similarly held rules and desired outcomes for the child.

Sometimes the best that can be accomplished is for the teacher to provide the encouragement and boundaries the child might not be getting at home. A good teacher can help a student learn about the importance of having time away from television, phones, and video games.

Even better is when a teacher can encourage families to spend time together reading books, playing games, or just talking. It’s beautiful to see a teacher who can provide opportunities for parents to get involved at school in the classroom.

Not only does it add more helping hands in the classroom, but it gives that parent extra time with their child, as well as an opportunity to learn some tricks of the trade the teacher executes successfully that can be used at home. Plus, when parents can see all the effort and hard work that goes into creating and maintaining a successful classroom climate for learning, they tend to complain less and help more.

If you are a teacher, you cannot underestimate the importance of learning the names of your parents and getting to know them personally. Form relationships with them, send notes home about what’s going on in class, be approachable, listen first, and make sure you don’t fall into the habit of only speaking to parents when you have bad news to deliver!

If you are a parent, before you complain, help out in the classroom a couple of times. Don’t fall into trusting gossip or your child’s view without also seeing it with your own eyes. The job of a teacher is very difficult, so make sure you aren’t a thorn in their side but a source of support and encouragement.

Of course, sometimes a problem will arise. For both sides, it is first important to make sure you never act on raw emotion and always take time to process a situation. When you do meet, to help keep things calm, use the tried-but-true “sandwich method” of beginning with positive statements before addressing the issue. When you state your point-of-view, be sure to make it an “I message,” such as, “I’m having a little problem with _______, and I wonder if you could help me?”

Remember, you both want what’s best for the child. Enter these dialogues as partners, not enemies.


Parents and teachers have personalities and temperaments, just as students do. So in your efforts to build bridges with the other, parents and teachers ought to consider the make-up of their partner in this all-too-important relationship.

These characteristics, based on the DISC model, offer insights into how we can relate to each other, receive what the other is saying, and reinforce each other’s strengths.

When you are communicating with a parent or teacher, try to identify the other’s temperament. Then use these approaches for a more successful meeting.

The High D – Dominant, Demanding Temperament

  • Be firm and direct, focusing on the child’s actions
  • Be brief and to the point; use logic to develop a plan to help the student
  • Repeat the plan and give bottom-line goals, objectives, and a timetable

The High I – Influencing, Inspiring Temperament

  • Be friendly and positive, and allow time for interaction
  • First, listen as they discuss their feelings. Then direct them to a plan of action for the child.
  • Offer encouragement and incentive for solving the problem

The High S – Steady, Status Quo Temperament

  • Be non-threatning
  • Use personal acceptance and assurance, and gently discuss ways to solve the issue
  • Be patient. Allow time for them to process the information and take ownership of the idea

The High C – Conscientious, Cautious Temperament

  • Prepare for initial responses to be cautious or negative
  • Discuss the situation in a logical, persistent manner
  • Provide a step-by-step approach for reaching the goal. Present this approach as “steps of support”

There is nothing more wonderful for a school than parents who support the teachers and teachers who partner with the parents in order to give the children the encouragement, guidance, challenges, and love they need in order to succeed.

But it takes both parties willing to work together in harmony for this to happen.

Discipline By Design Series – Part 10 of 12 – Dealing Positively and Decisively with Difficult JH and HS Students

Last week we discussed some positive ways to discipline junior high and high school adolescents and students that attempted to understand their stage of development and show them dignity, respect, and trust with responsibility as a means of preventing major disciplinary disruptions from occurring in the first place.

But what do we do when we are dealing with a student, a child’s friend, or our own child who seems determined to cause us trouble, possibly even violent or illegal actions?

 Again, we want to deal with this issue in a positive manner. That doesn’t mean we enjoy it or it is particularly fun. This means that we are helping this individual work toward a place of healing. Most times this begins with identifying what emotion or experience(s) lies at the core of our students’ misbehavior:




Anger Fear Show unconditional love. Demonstrate and expect appropriate behavior.
Disrespect Imitating our culture, and it comes in many sizes, from overt to insidious Create a classroom or home that is counter to the popular culture. Have them say or do it again properly. Model respect for them at all times.
Verbal or physical abuse Perhaps the situation the individual is living in and terrible, hidden situations are epidemic in our culture Love them and love them some more. Listen. Look at their hearts and try to see their actions in light of what is really happening in their lives.
Disruptive behavior Need for attention Stop, wait, and start again. Never negotiate.
Defiant behavior Fear of not being loved Model what you expect.
Bullying Again, fear. Often it has been modeled for them, either at home, school, or by the media/culture Show zero tolerance.
Cliques The need to belong Show zero tolerance. Find places for students to belong that are more positive. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem.


In working with young men who had committed violent crimes, adolescent psychologist J.E. Garbarino consistently found histories of neglect and abuse. He speaks of these young men having hidden their souls in order to protect themselves from further hurt.

Unconditional love is a critical element in helping these boys survive. These young men are capable of developing and desperately need to form new, positive attachments with other adults.

Fortunately, there is an emerging body of research-based literature that provides guidance to school personnel for developing strategies to reduce the incidence of violence and effectively respond to violent activity when it does occur.

In 1995, Brendtro and Long identified the following four factors that lead to chronically violent behaviors.


Historically, extended families or tribes provided social bonds. We have lost the tribes, the extended families, and even the nuclear family in many cases.

Today, divorce, abuse, poverty, drugs, and other forces interfere with normal parenting and disrupt many families. Adults whose own lives are chaotic cannot effectively monitor and manage children’s activities or affiliations. Nor can they spend time with children, teach conflict-resolution skills, or communicate consistent behavioral expectations.


Stress and conflict in small doses are normal products of living. Most children learn to tolerate them reasonably well (Brendtro and Long, 1995). Teach them stress-management skills and constructive conflict resolution through systematic cooperative learning activities (Johnson and Johnson, 1991, 1992, and 1994).

But when stress is severe and prolonged, some students are overwhelmed and respond in self-destructive and antisocial ways. They develop defensive behavior patterns and display hostility toward adults. Schools are a major source of stress for reasons such as fear of failure, not feeling connected, or having to respond to authority figures.


Educational researcher Larry K. Brendtro has found that educators often overlook neurologically triggered aggression while concentrating on learned violence. Only an intact, rational, sober brain can control angry impulses.

Violence, however, is frequently a byproduct of intoxication. Mental illness due to neurological trauma, disease, or chemical imbalances can also cause impaired thinking and perception. In fact, half of the youths on death row have histories of brain trauma and dysfunction. Alcohol and other drug abuse chemically alter brain states, leading to loss of self-control, angry outbursts, and deadly violent acts.


There is a pervasive pro-violent message in our culture that includes the presence and proliferation of weapons in our homes and schools, violence and depressing stories on every channel’s daily news reports and in every newspaper.

Moreover, entertainment is no longer entertaining but jars the senses and psyche with a steady stream of violent movies accompanied by loud music and dark characters. To the extent that children are allowed to immerse themselves in the current pop culture, real life is no better. The continual message and image is of dissipated and lost lives.


Dealing positively with students and children with real damage and difficult tendencies can be extremely taxing and often does not end with much satisfaction. But we must continue to love them and do whatever we can to help ease their pain.

Remember the chart at the beginning of this post, and work to uncover and heal the hurt that lies at the core of any struggling individual child or student.

Discipline By Design Series – Part 9 of 12 – Positive Discipline for Junior High and High School Students

As we  concluded last week, by the time students get to the middle school, junior high, and senior high years, issues not dealt with in elementary school have grown larger. This is a good time to remember the virtues of creating an environment conducive to good discipline while the child is as young as possible.

When we discuss discipline with these older ages, I will refer to them as “students” more often and as “children” less often. Yes, a 6th grader is still a child in many ways, as is a 17-year-old. But I want our focus for these ages to be on treating them as adults and having realistic expectations and responsibilities for them.

As it’s been said, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.” This is especially true for older students, about whom I’ve discovered that the more I treat them like adults, the more adult-like they begin to act.

So let’s talk about some positive ways we can discipline these students before major issues arise. Then next week we will address more volatile and serious situations.


Remember, discipline is not about punishing behavior after it has occurred but ought to be about creating an environment that encourages positive behavior. So how do we create a climate conducive to effective discipline with the junior high student?

  1. Middle school and junior high students are in the dialectic stage of development, meaning that they aredisputatious – they like to debate, dialogue, and dispute everything! Provide opportunities for them to debate appropriately, with respect for others’ opinions as well as the adult. Also, as a teacher or a parent, do not be overly sensitive to disagreements with them at this stage. As I’ve written before, adolescents have a different interpretation of debates than adults do, especially parents. They need to discuss issues with you, so don’t dismiss them as disrespectful or naive. Take time to listen to them and teach them how to think things through in a respectful manner.
  2. These “children” are in the awkwardness of adolescence. They are fearful, alienated, and unsure. They need to know that you CARE about them personally. Make sure they hear you say words of encouragement to them, even if they act embarrassed by it. This is often more difficult for the parent than the teacher, but the important thing to remember is that they still need your support. Maybe you don’t write cute notes in their lunch boxes anymore (as my kids were sure to tell me by this age!), but don’t take things so personally that you cease lifting them up regularly with your words and actions. For the teacher, you will find that a positive classroom leads to more positive behavior.
  3. With that in mind, show no tolerance for teasing. Teasing leads to cliques and bullying. Also, refrain from sarcasm. I know some teachers and parents use it as a way to relate to this age, but these students also have major insecurities and often misunderstand your sarcasm and end up taking it as a sign that it is okay to tease others. The junior high student does not need yet another reason to become cynical, so try and avoid modeling it for them.
  4. For the teacher, structure times and ways to get to know your students and for them to get to know you. You can do this with writing activities, get-to-know-you warm ups at the beginning of class, or extra-curricular events. At home, you might think you know your child perfectly, but during this age they are developing new aspects of their personality. Pay attention to this and show them that you’ve noticed. You don’t have to hover around them constantly (which they do not want!) in order to observe these small but significant changes. A simple remark from you in a positive manner can greatly encourage them that they are headed in the right direction.
  5. Structure times and ways for students to become acquainted with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, personal joys, and struggles. It helps to know you aren’t alone in dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence. At home it might help them to hear you tell stories about your own struggles. NOT your stories of walking 20 miles in the snow when your life was SO much harder than theirs, but anecdotes they can relate to 🙂
  6. Demystify the learning process so they begin to understand that everyone is good at something. I have written numerous books and articles on this topic and speak on it regularly. At Grace Academy we give each child a personality and learning style assessment that we use in order to help the student learn in their best language whenever possible. In the past I have also taught study skills to the 6th graders, where I walk them through their profiles and help them find practical tips for doing homework, studying for a test, and relating to a teacher they just “don’t get.” Each year the transformation is amazing, as these students emerge more confident and better-prepared for junior high and high school.
  7. Praise students for their strengths in front of others. Do it regularly, and let everyone hear you say it!


What can we do to cultivate a climate that is conducive to effective discipline with the high school student?

High school students have similarities to junior high students, but with a greater capacity for handling responsibility. Ideally, these students are now in the rhetoric stage. This means that they can define, articulate, and defend what they think and believe. So give them a chance to do this! Lecturing at them is not the best way to help them think through the life-decisions they are beginning to make. Conversation is what they seek, so give them your ear, your time, and a chance to express themselves.

Your attitude toward them makes a hug difference. If you treat them more like adults, they are more likely to act like adults. Find ways at school or home to give them new responsibilities that show them you trust them. Let them earn freedom and privileges as they display their responsibility and trustworthiness.

Get to know them personally. This will, of course, look differently at home than school. But the point is that you take an active interest in their development into adulthood. If you show them that you are interested in the direction their life is headed, it will encourage them to continue on that path.

Next week we will turn our attention from positive ways of avoiding disciplinary problems to handling more difficult students and situations. See you then!

Discipline By Design Series – Part 8 of 12 – ADHD, ODD, Bullying, and the Elementary Child

Last week we addressed how fear and a need for attention and love often drive an elementary-aged child to act out. To help this child, we need to treat them with respect, respond rather than react, and defuse the situation by remembering not to take it personally but instead be empathetic in our interactions with them. Following these simple guidelines will lead that child to peace and balance.

But what do you do with more extreme situations, such as ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), and bullying? That’s what we will discuss today.

One of the issues adults face when dealing with an ADD/ADHD child is that these children tend to act without thinking. Behaviorally, their actions indicate a lack of understanding of cause and effect. Children with ADD/ADHD do things without thinking about the consequences of their actions. So how would you approach them to compensate for their tendencies in this area?
One way is to prearrange cues with them so that they hear you say something when they are reacting impulsively. Perhaps you ask them to go back and do the behavior again, correctly this time. Or perhaps you create a contract that clearly spells out cause and effect.
Still, you will encounter impulsive behavior — even more than usual for kids because children with ADD/ADHD have difficulty delaying gratification and other kinds of impulse control. 
To help them, sometimes it is useful to use verbalizations, such as, “I need you to write this down, ” or “Let’s push the rewind button here. How can this be different?”
It is also helpful to teach your ADD student/child to stop and think before responding. Have them count to ten silently before talking back or responding to a question from you. Reinforce and encourage their new self-control every time until it becomes second nature to them.
A sand hourglass (which is silent!) can be used to indicate periods of intense independent work and reinforce appropriate behavior during this period. Start with three-minute bunches and gradually increase the time.
For teachers it can be helpful to frequently move about the room. When you observe your ADD/ADHD student working on task, reward him or her with a simple wink or smile. Or simply say, “I like the way you are on task just now.”
A final suggestion is to consider keeping a minute timer on the child’s desk or in their bedroom. Ask the ADD/ADHD child how long he thinks a particular task will take to complete, and then let him set his own time and race against the timer. 
If you encounter an ADD/ADHD child who is able to verbalize the rules correctly but cannot internalize or translate them into appropriate conduct, it is important to help them move this abstract knowledge into concrete action. Develop practice exercises for “stop and think” behavior. Ask them to model the appropriate rule that they verbalized and have them repeat the behavior, as reinforcement helps cement the head knowledge into body knowledge.
ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Brain research has shown that ODD has a physical reality within the brain. ODD can be observed at that moment when the cingulate (a part of the brain that runs longitudinally down the center of the frontal lobe) gets stuck. The child becomes fixated on arguing any and all points. When the child gets overly stimulated, the cingulate appears on a CAT scan to turn white hot.
The late Dr. Paul Warren, whom I have written a book about ADD/ADHD with and is a renowned behavioral pediatrician, uses the analogy of the brain as a train: First comes the vapor lock, then the meltdown, and then the train wreck. 
Dr. Warren suggests that for children with ODD it is important to emphasize positive rather than negative communication early in the oppositional cycle. 
An new parent or inexperienced teacher might say, “I want you to stop,” only to discover that this request triggers confrontation and denial. Instead, the teacher should simply state what the student is supposed to do, not what he shouldn’t do. Avoid saying “no” or “don’t” if possible. Save “no” for important situations so the child takes “no” seriously. 
Let’s look at some examples of negative statements and how we can turn them into positives that do not trigger a confrontational response:
  • “Don’t spill” becomes “Pour carefully”
  • “Don’t yell” becomes “Use your quiet voice inside”
  • “Don’t talk with your mouth full” becomes “Chew and swallow, then talk”
  • “Don’t ride your bike on the grass” becomes “Ride on the sidewalk”
  • “Don’t throw the ball in the classroom/house” becomes “Throw the ball on the playground/outside” or “Roll the ball on the floor”

Here are some additional difficult behaviors and some suggestions or specific verbalizations that can help handle the behavior.

  1. Yelling or screaming: “I want to hear what you’re saying. When you speak too loudly, I can’t listen because it hurts my ears. Now please whisper to help my ears feel better.” “Loud voices are for outdoors, soft ones for indoors.” “You seem to be angry or upset. I can listen better when you speak more softly.” (Remember to be patient and wait for the appropriate behavior to begin).
  2. Interrupting or speaking when an adult is speaking: “I’m glad you have something to tell me. But it is your turn to listen now and my turn to speak. Then we’ll trade.” (Remember to follow through and ask the child what he or she wanted to say).
  3. Refusing to help with clean up: “I’ll help you put the toys/books/tools/clothes away. It’s a big job, but it can be fun when people work together. It gives us time to talk to each other.”
  4. Name-calling: “She likes to be called by her right name, which is ________.”
  5. Refusing to obey a direct order from the teacher: With children who may initially refuse negative consequences, such as going to time-out, set a kitchen timer for a brief period (one to two minutes) after refusal has occurred. Explain that they can use the two minutes to decide if they will go to time-out on their own or if more serious consequences must be imposed. Experienced teachers and parents insist that this method has successfully reduced the necessity to enforce negative consequences and seems to de-escalate the situation.

I have written a recent article about this for 380 Guide as well as in my book with June Hunt, Bonding with Your Teens through Boundaries. The topic will also appear in our follow-up, Bonding with Your Children through Boundaries. The point is, the topic is important and pops up all the time.
Bullying can be defined as a clear power imbalance that is used to cause physical, emotional, or psychological harm or injury during repeated and chronic instances of aggression and intimidation targeted toward a specific individual.
How can we stop bullying at home or at school? Here are 22 suggestions.
  1. Understand that it is often modeled after behavior observed elsewhere.
  2. Understand that fear is at the core of the bully and his/her behavior.
  3. Discuss bullying openly at home or in class and ask if anyone has seen it happen.
  4. Involve children, especially at school, in establishing rules against bullying.
  5. Provide activities and discussions regarding the negative effects of bullying.
  6. Teach all children to respond to a bully by walking away rather than by confronting the bully.
  7. Teach all children that they must report it if they see a bully at work. If they do not intervene or report the incident, they are now involved.
  8. Develop a plan to ensure that students know what to do if they observe bullying.
  9. Set firm limits for unacceptable behavior.
  10. Take immediate action when bullying is observed or reported.
  11. Confront bullies in private, not in public.
  12. Consistently apply non-hostile, non-physical consequences for violations.
  13. Notify parents of both the bully and the victim.
  14. Be aware that bullying occurs in the bathroom and on the playground and monitor those areas.
  15. Refer both bully and victim to counseling if appropriate.
  16. Teach about respecting other people’s rights. Don’t assume the child knows this.
  17. Constantly stress how other students feel.
  18. Teach everyone the Golden Rule.
  19. Use role-playing to teach how to negotiate rather than force one’s will on others.
  20. Keep a record of bullying incidents. This will help to identify whether anything in particular is causing the child stress and setting him/her off.
  21. In the fifth grade, encourage students to read Wounded Spirit by Frank Perretti.
  22. Discuss a plan that you can implement in your school or home to deal with the bullying issue now before it becomes a problem. If it continues into high school, it can become much more serious, so it needs to be dealt with and planned for early on.

Next week we will discuss junior high and high school students and how to use our discipline principles on older students. See you then!

Discipline By Design – Part 7 of 12 – Helping the Difficult Elementary Student Find Peace and Balance

Last week we discussed some ways we can cultivate the climate for preschool-aged children. Today our focus will be on helping difficult elementary students find peace and balance at home and in school.

At the core of any disruptive or difficult child are deep hurts and a hunger for love and attention. Much of their outbursts, and sometimes even anger, stems from fear – fear of not being loved or accepted. If we can start with a nurturing heart, we can overcome many of these obstacles and love students to wholeness.


On a practical level, however, we need some ways to intervene. It is safe to say that the more intense the individual child, the more intentional the intervention needs to be. A significant amount of disruptive behavior breaks out because the child does not know how to proceed. They have experienced failure and its repercussions, and so they fear facing it again!

With that in mind, try this approach: describe the outcome you expect. Have your child(ren) or students paraphrase back to you what you just said. Be specific in your instructions. Describe in concrete terms what you see and how you feel. Do not simply say, “You’re doing a good job.” Tell the child specific things such as, “I like the way you put away the toys by yourself this morning.”

Give children special and close attention. Some children respond best to a prearranged cuing system, which especially comes in handy in public or in class. In this type of system, the parent or teacher gives a visual signal (touching the ear) or verbal phrase (“Remember, I’m looking for good listeners”) when a targeted inappropriate behavior occurs. The cue reminds the child to correct their behavior without direct confrontation or loss of self-esteem.


When we react, we are in flesh. What we want to do is respond in the power of the Holy Spirit. Move slowly toward the child and count to ten silently as you go. Use nonverbal cues to avoid embarrassing him. Never belittle him in front of his peers. Both he and the other children know that he stands out. If the teacher or parent belittles the child, then the other children will sense permission to belittle that child as well.


An episode of acting out may be the result of what happened in the child’s life an hour or a day before the event in question. Lots of us are quick to blame ourselves. Please don’t. Sometimes a parent or teacher takes a hit from a child just because they’re there. Don’t worry about the provocation. Realize that your role is to help the student put his or her world back together.


…before it becomes a confrontation. A confrontation is a lose-lose situation. No one likes to be backed into a corner. The goal of discipline is not to control but to be skilled guides and facilitators who help children learn to know, love, and love again within an orderly environment.


Always treat a child with respect. Plus, by remaining polite, you don’t allow the child to pull you into the bad guy role. Calmly and gently take the child aside and deal with him or her individually rather than in front of others, whether in class, in public, or with other siblings. By doing this, you take the child out of the negative limelight.


Approach the unruly child with the attitude that you’d like to know what is going on in his or her mind so you can help. Say, “It seems like you’re having a rough time today. May I help?” This is a polite way of telling the child that you expect better behavior than what you just witnessed.

Next week we will spend some more time discussing ways to deal positively with issues such as ADD, ODD, and bullying in the elementary years.