All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

The Destructive Bubble of Sports

CaptureIf you have a child involved in sports or are a fan of sports, whether high school, college, or pro, this New York Times article should be really unsettling to you.

Sports can be a wonderful world to instill healthy values, attitudes, and life skills. But, what has been spotlighted recently, from the Sayresville, NJ high school football team to Ray Rice, sports is also a Bizarro world in which talented athletes live in in a bubble where right and wrong are not understood, respect and responsibility has been replaced by rights and entitlement, and where money, fame, and power rule.

In what world are your children growing up in?

Be the Best Ski Racing Parent You Can Be: A Review

blogHey parents, are you ready for another roller coaster ride called a winter of ski racing ? Racers aren’t the only members of the ski racing community who experience the intense ups and downs of our sport; their parents do too.

The fact is that it’s hard being a ski racing parent. You invest your heart, soul, and a whole lot of money so your children can have a great experience in their ski racing and, let’s be realistic, have as much success as possible. This kind of investment of emotions, time, and money can cause some parents to go to the “dark side” and become albatrosses around their children’s necks rather than the wind beneath their wings.

Your goal is to be a source of support, confidence, and comfort to your children as they experience the inevitable highs and lows that are a normal part of ski racing. During the course of this winter, I will share with you some ideas I have about what it takes to be a good ski racing parent. But, to get you off to a good start, I would like to offer you a “refresher course” on being the best ski racing parent you can be. To that end, I’ve attached links to my articles from past years:

  1. Set healthy expectations and goals that focus on fun, effort, and long-term development.
  2. Know what your and your children’s a responsibilities are and make sure you’re doing your job and not theirs.
  3. Ensure that your young racers strive for excellence rather than perfection.
  4. Allow your children to fail, so they will learn from it and not fear it.
  5. Put your children in situations in which they will feel challenged not overmatched.
  6. Praise your children in ways that will foster real self-esteem and confidence.
  7. Raise children who are “successful achievers,” meaning they have self-esteem, ownership, and emotional mastery.
  8. Regardless of whether your children are so-called gifted or not, always focus on their effort.
  9. Be sensitive to how success impacts your young racers.
  10. Allow your children to experience disappointment and other less-pleasant emotions.

And if you are really ambitious, you can read all 155 of my articles on my Parents blog, all of which will help you to raise successful and happy children.

Now get out there and be the best ski racing parent you can be. Your children will thank you for it.

Gratitude Fuels Your Child’s Heart (and Your Own)

gratitudeOne of the most important—and often neglected—messages that you want your children to get early and often is the power of gratitude. Consider a simple “thank you.” Those two words offer a win-win for the sender and the receiver of the message. A surprising and robust finding in the growing body of research that has explored what leads to happiness is that gratitude increases our happiness. For example, when people express genuine, heartfelt gratitude to others, those senders say that they feel happier for several days. And how does the receiver of that gratitude feel? Darned good, of course, because they feel appreciated.

Yet, teaching children gratitude can feel like an impossible task these days. We live in a culture where a sense of entitlement is ubiquitous. There are daily media accounts of celebrities, professional athletes,  CEOs, and politicians who believe that they deserve everything that they receive and react to their riches, status, and fame with smugness and disdain, rather than gratitude. Advertising aimed at children tells them that it is their right to have what they want, how they want it, when they want it, and not be asked for anything in return. And research suggests that we are moving farther away from, rather than closer to, gratitude in young people; narcissism has risen significantly among college students in the past three decades. And a 2006 study of 200 celebrity actors, musicians, and comedians found that they were significantly more narcissistic than the average person, with reality-TV stars scoring the highest on narcissism.

How many times in your children’s lives have you done something for them and received no “thank you” in return? More times than you can count, in all likelihood. And how did you feel? Unappreciated? Perhaps a bit angry and resentful for your children not having acknowledged your efforts on their behalf? Less willing to help in the future? All very reasonable reactions to an absence of gratitude. And how many times, after you or someone else helps your children, have you asked them to say, “thank you?” I’m sure that if you had a dime for every time, you would be wealthy today. Though there is some evidence that gratitude, like other “pro-social” behaviors, is inborn, you wouldn’t know it from the struggle that just about every parent has in getting their children to express gratitude.

The Power of Gratitude

It’s easy to overlook gratitude because, for most people, its expressions are often knee-jerk reactions; most adults say “Thank you” without even thinking about it. Perhaps because there isn’t typically much thought behind gratitude, we take it for granted as both the sender and receiver. Yet, over the last decade, a expansive body of research has emerged demonstrating the extraordinary power that gratitude has on all aspects of our lives. For example, people who express gratitude have been found to be more happy, experience more positive emotions, have lower levels of depression and stress, and rate their relationships and lives as more fulfilling.

People who express gratitude are more accepting of themselves and others, say they have more purpose and control in their lives, and are able to deal with life transitions better. Grateful people also deal with life challenges better because they maintain a positive attitude, reach out for support from others, and focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problems.

Social benefits accrued as well: People who are grateful are more empathic, able to take others’ perspectives, and generous, and more likely to help or support others. They also have stronger bonds to others. Most relevant here, children who regularly expressed gratitude are more optimistic about their families and schools.

There is also an emerging body of literature that has found that gratitude isn’t just psychological, but rather impacts us physiologically and neurologically. Gratitude appears to produce beneficial hormonal changes and boost the immune system.  And these benefits aren’t just a short-term effect. Ongoing practices in gratitude produce the repetition needed to wire the neural pathways that make it easier for children to override unhealthy thinking, emotions, and behaviors and experience positive physiology, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the future.

In upcoming posts, I will explore ways in which you can help your children understand and embrace the power of gratitude in their lives.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

The Digital World is Full of Possibility and Worry

family (1)The Huffington Post recently asked me to write a blog post on the influence of technology on the lives of children, parents, and families in connection with the new film Men, Women and Children. The request inspired me to put my ideas on (digital) paper wearing both my professional and personal hats.

I come to the discussion of the impact of technology on our lives from two perspectives. I hold a Ph.D. in psychology, am the author of Raising Generation Tech: Prepare Your Children for Media-Fueled World, blog about the psychology of technology, and speak regularly to parents, educators, and young people about the impact of technology on their lives. As a professional at the nexus of technology and humanity, I see both the wonderful benefits technology has to offer and the grave concerns that it presents to every level of society.

I also come to this discussion as the father of two daughters (ages 9 and 7) who are growing up in a world in which technology has become a dominant presence in the lives of children and families. As a parent, I see how technology can open up a world of possibility for children. At the same time, I see how technology offers a veritable Pandora’s Box for young people fraught with unknown, unanticipated, and unintended consequences being realized every day in the Internet Age.

Let me preface this post with a declaration: I am not a Luddite or anti technology! In fact, I love technology, am a bit of a tech geek, and couldn’t do what I do without computers, smartphones, social media, and all of the amazing tools at our disposal in our digital world. As I share my thoughts about technology, I am not trying to Chicken Little—“The sky is falling!”—but rather Paul Revere—“The techies are coming!”—alerting and educating people about the technological invasion with which we are currently confronted. Admittedly, I tend to focus on the negatives of technology, but only because the positives are so obvious.

Let’s start with my professional side.

There are five things I believe about technology:

  • Technology is one of the most powerful forces in children’s lives today
  • Technology is neither good nor bad, but it is not neutral
  • Too early, too much, and unguided exposure to media will not prepare children for successful and happy lives
  • Children must develop a healthy relationship with technology to prosper
  • Parents are primarily responsible for the relationship that their children have with technology

There is strong evidence that technology is playing a increasingly central role in how children spend their time. An oft-quoted 2009 survey conducted by the Kaiser Foundation found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend, on average, more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a non-school-related screen. Given the busy lives children lead these days and the reality that there are only so many hours in a day, this statistic is almost unbelievable. And it’s not far fetched to assume that this number has grown in the last five years as technology has become even more deeply embedded in our lives.

There is no doubt that the digital world has much to offer children and families. The Internet provides an almost infinite universe of information that can inspire and educate. It can connect people across vast distances. The Internet can bring people together based on shared values, interests, and ideas. We have seen technology foment causes and movement, literally helping to change the world, mostly for the better. Technology had catalyzed collaboration, creativity, and innovation. And, in many ways, it has helped people to lead more productive and efficient lives.

But the digital world has a dark side as well. Cyberbullying, online pornography, privacy and anonymity, sexting, greater influence of an unhealthy popular culture, so-called multitasking, commercialism, the “quantification” of friends, shallowness of communications, and just plain bad manners.

And Internet addiction? For sure. Though the American Psychiatric Association decided not to designate Internet addiction as a psychiatric disorder, when it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And this goes not only for children who are attached their screens, but also many parents who are playing with their smartphones when they should be watching and interacting with their children.

Now for my personal side as a father.

In my own neighborhood north of SF, I see most young people walking around with their phones in their hands as if it were a cyborg-like extension of their arm. I see groups of kids hanging out in parks, but not looking at or talking to each other. Rather, they have their eyes glued to the screens of their phones. Parents of our girls’ friends allow their children to have Facebook accounts before they are legally allowed to. Not long ago, my eldest daughter had a playdate at a friend’s house and her friend’s idea of fun was playing games on her new iPad while my daughter just stood their watching (suffice it to say, that was my daughter’s last playdate at her friend’s house).

My wife and I believe that the more connected our children will be to the Internet, the less connected they will be to us, other people, and the world around them. To that end, we have chosen to severely limit our daughters’ exposure to technology. We don’t have cable or satellite TV. Our girls aren’t allowed to use our smartphones (except to make calls), they can’t play on our computers, and they’ve only seen about ten movies in their lives (they appear to be one of only a handful of children in America who haven’t seen Frozen). My wife and I limit our own use of technology when we’re around our daughters. We also emphasize to our girls that technology is a tool, not a toy.

Our daughters also attend a Waldorf school that bucks the recent trend of early and frequent use of technology in schools by encouraging minimal exposure to media, so their educational experience reflect our values and sensibilities around technology. And we do our best to surround our family with like-minded people, so we can be confident that our daughters will be getting mostly healthy messages about technology from others in their immediate social world.

Certainly, when the time is right we will expand their experience with technology; we can’t keep them in a tech bubble forever (nor do we want to). The reality is that they are growing up in a media-dominated world and need to master the relevant tools. It doesn’t, however, require putting an smartphone, tablet, or computer in your child’s crib! The right time means that they have developed healthy attitudes toward technology and good decision-making skills. And, importantly, when technology hasn’t become their default when bored, playing, or just hanging out (as is the case with many children these days).

In the meantime, our family emphasizes unstructured time, creative play, art, sports, being outdoors, reading, music, and just plain hanging out as a family.

So those are my takes the role of technology in family’s lives wearing both my professional and parent hats. I will conclude this post with a few final thoughts.

First, of all the concerns surrounding excessive use of technology by children and adults, my greatest involves opportunity costs. If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it means that time spent using technology means time not spent doing other things that I believe are far more valuable and healthy, for example, being with family and friends, exercising, and studying. I have no problem with young people (and their parents) using technology—I use it plenty!—but it should be the exception, not the rule, to how they spend their time. In other words, it shouldn’t dominate your family’s lives.

Second, I’m not here to tell you how you should use technology in your family. That’s a decision that only you can make. What I will do, though, is make the following recommendations as you explore the role of technology in your children’s and family’s lives:

  • Be a role model for technology: Your children will likely adopt whatever relationship you have with media (and many parents these days are hopelessly addicted).
  • Stay connected (in the old-school sense) to your children by spending time with them and interacting with them directly rather than through technology.
  • Make deliberate choices, based on your family, priorities, and lifestyle, about which and how much technology is present in your family’s lives.
  • Talk to your children about technology and how it can impact them in ways both healthy and not.
  • Set limits and provide guidance in your children’s use of technology.
  • Most importantly, disconnect!: Have scheduled time when all of you must turn off your technology and live and enjoy life in the analog world.

Ski Racers, Get Up to Speed for This Season: A Review

SKI ALPIN - FIS WC Levi, Slalom, DamenHopefully, you’ve spent the summer getting ready for this winter of racing. If so, you should be stronger, better technically, and more mentally prepared than ever before. You’re now entering the final stage of preparations for the upcoming race season with a final period of conditioning followed by getting back on snow and tuning up for your first races.

It’s hard to believe that I’ll be skiing in about two weeks at Loveland (weather permitting). I’m sure that, with the leaves changing and the nights getting cooler, ski season is front and center on your radar screen.

As I have done every fall, I wanted to begin this new season of writing by giving you a refresher course on some key issues that I wrote about in past seasons. As all of my ideas built on the previous ones, you can’t just leave those from last season in the past. Rather, you have to make sure these tools are still in your toolbox before you can add to it with the psychological information and strategies I will share with you in the coming months.

  1. Prime Ski Racing should be your goal: Skiing at a consistently high level under the most demanding conditions.
  2. You need to have the right attitude about competition and success and failure before you can begin to achieve your goals.
  3. Just like with the physical side of ski racing, you can use Prime Profiling to better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Motivation is the foundation of all of your efforts to achieve your ski racing goals.
  5. Confidence is the single most important mental factor in ski racing.
  6. There are five keys to Prime Confidence.
  7. There are five things that I hate to see racers do in training.
  8. You need to know the five themes to live by on race day to ski your fastest.
  9. Learn to master frustration.
  10. 5 tips for race-day success.

For a little inspiration, these two articles about Bode and Julia and Lindsey should help.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can read all 97 posts on my Ski Racing blog.

So, now that you’re up to speed on some of the key topics I’ve written about in past years, let’s look ahead and see what we can do to get you even more mentally prepared to be successful this season. More to come in upcoming posts!

Acts of Compassion Speak Louder than Words to Your Children

imagesDeveloping the capacity for compassion and sharing is a huge challenge for young children. Because they are still in an egocentric stage of development, they lack the awareness of and empathy toward others necessary to see how not sharing impacts those around them. Yet, sharing, as an expression of compassion, is a message that your children must get. For our family, we try to strike a balance in which we establish the expectation of sharing (i.e., encouraging and sometimes forcing sharing), yet also give our daughters permission to not share everything. We allow them to designate some of their possessions as “special” that they don’t have to share with others. Of course, we encourage them to share everything, but the “special” category gives them the feeling that they have some things that are truly theirs. Also, at times when they don’t want to share, we make a point to tell them that the best kind of generosity occurs when they don’t want to share.

Eve and Darren believe that compassion arises from the realization that there are people in the world different from them. So, from their two children’s earliest years, they exposed their kids to as much , racial, religious, age and socioeconomic diversity as possible. They live in a large and diverse city in a neighborhood of mixed ethnicity and explore every nook and cranny of the urban landscape, even poor areas in which they are a bit uncomfortable. Eve and Darren expose their children to every kind of international cuisine they can find (though, admittedly, every taste isn’t always welcomed). They read books to their children that show them about other peoples, cultures, and religions. Once their children were old enough, the family took trips to India, China, Russia, and Africa.

Carly and Jake see compassion as starting close to home and expanding outward. They emphasize to their son and daughter that caring for each other is the foundation of their family and for compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. They establish clear expectations of how they wanted their family to treat each other and focused on activities that require cooperation. For example, they played games, worked on puzzles, and did household projects that can’t be accomplished alone.

From this foundation of compassion with their family, Carly and Jake expanded their messages to their friends and neighbors. They built a strong network of like-minded people who shared the value of compassion. They and other parents in their network organized social activities and charitable work aimed at not only helping others outside their circle, but also those within. In recent months, Carly and Jake organized a Tom Sawyer house painting party for elderly neighbors who couldn’t afford a new paint job. They, along with other parents in their group, organized a condolences card-writing event for a member of the group whose father had recently died. And Carly and the other moms and children in the group prepared several weeks of meals for a family whose mother had become seriously ill, requiring surgery and a lengthy convalescence.

One of the most interesting and courageous acts of compassion I have learned about first hand occurred during a recent visit to a Southern city with a large African-American population, high levels of poverty, and almost-uniform geographic racial segregation for a speaking event. The chaplain at the school at which I spoke, Randy, a Caucasian, had done considerable charitable work in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Five years ago, he decided that, for him to have the greatest impact on this struggling community, he, his wife, and three young children needed to move into the neighborhood. Needless to say, his wife was resistant, worried for the safety of her family. But seeing her husband’s passion and determination, she steeled herself and agreed to the move. To their surprise, their family was welcomed into the neighborhood. In the five years since their move, they have never had any problems being one of only a few white families in the area. The chaplain’s ability to effect positive change in the community has grown exponentially. And their children are not only seeing and hearing messages of compassion, but they are living a life immersed in compassion.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

Taylor’s Latest Book Just Published

practice-development-bookI’m pleased to announce the publication of my 14th book, Practice Development in Sport and Performance PsychologyAlong with a team of experienced authors, I provide a foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to establish and maintain a consulting business in sport and performance psychology. Says Kate Hays, Ph.D., Past president, APA Division of Sport & Exercise Psychology, “This book provides a blueprint and a process for establishing a consulting business and offers ideas that you can return to regularly to keep your consulting business moving forward.”

Tech Savvy Doesn’t Mean Tech Skilled

digital_divide_between_parents_kidsParents getting their children involved in technology as early as possible has become a societal imperative and a source of great pressure on parents these days. The belief is that if children don’t get on the technology train at an early age, they will be left behind and be doomed to a life of Luddite failure.

So, we see kids who have iPads at age 2 and schools that are introducing computers in kindergarten. We see children who, by age 8, seem about as tech savvy as you can imagine, able to surf the web, play online games, use smartphone apps, and post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

But a recent study suggests that being tech savvy may not be preparing children to actually be skilled with the use of technology. Tech skills that are associated with academic success (and presumably career success later in life) involve the ability to “find, evaluate, integrate, and communicate the information they find online.” One of the study’s key findings was  “a general lack of online literacy among all students…”

The lessons here. Don’t conflate your children being experts at social media with their being technologically skilled in areas that will actually be of benefit to their educations and careers. Don’t fall for the false notion that giving your children an iPad or smartphone or allowing them to sign up for social media before they are legally allowed to will put them in the luxury car of the technology train.

Leader-as-Decision-Maker: Decisions Matter

decisionI’m often brought into a company to help them solve a problem. The problem might have to do with strategic planning, research and development, or entry into a new market. I’m no expert in any of these areas, but what I am pretty good at is helping companies understand and go through the best possible process for making decisions.

The first thing I say is that this process isn’t about solving problems; it’s about decision making. When we think about typical problem solving, it involves a series of steps.

 

  1. Identifying the problem…which involves making a decision on what the problem is.
  2. Finding a solution…which means making a decision on what will solve the problem.
  3. Implementing a solution…which means making a decision on how to put the plan into action.

 

Therefore, when we talk about ‘problem solving,’ what we really mean is ‘decision making.’

The Importance of Decision Making

Is there any more crucial capability for a business leader or team to have than effective decision making? Are there ever any easy decisions (certainly not important ones)? The fact is that, of all the experience, knowledge, and skill sets that you bring to your company, the most valuable is the ability to make sound decisions.

Why? The decisions that you make determine the direction that your company goes and, ultimately, its success or failure. So why do you make good or poor decisions? And what is your ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ rate for decisions? It’s quite simple: As decisions go, so goes a company.

What is Decision Making?

We’ve now established the importance of decision making in a business. And, presumably, we all know at an intuitive level what decision making is. But I believe that the best decision making occurs at a conscious and deliberate level. And to bring this process to consciousness, and to ensure a shared understanding, let me tell you how I think of decision making.

Most basically, it is the process of making a choice among available alternatives. Decision making involves weighing the benefits and costs of competing alternatives. Many decisions aren’t decisions at all because they are self-evident; one option has demonstrably greater benefits and fewer costs than others. What makes decision making so difficult is when those available alternatives have a fairly equal number of costs and benefits or it’s difficult to weigh their importance.

Another challenge of decision making is that you are required to attempt to predict the future outcome of each alternative. The problem here is that people are notoriously bad at gazing into our crystal balls and making accurate predictions (think Iraq War, The Great Recession).

The bottom line of decision making involves determining which potential decision will offer the best possible outcome based on what we know now. That decision then catalyzes a course of action that, over time, will illuminate whether the decision was, in retrospect, a good one.

Avoid Pitfalls

One of the best ways to increase the chances that you will make a bad decision is to identify and minimize the pitfalls that are common when one or more people are confronted with an important decision.

Get the right people involved. Too often, important decisions are made by one person or a small and homogeneous group of people. They look through the same lens that ensures a particular decision. Or, there is insufficient knowledge, experience, or wisdom to make a sound decision. Or, the decision makers have a specific bias toward one alternative, guaranteeing its selection despite it not necessarily being the best option.

You can circumvent this pitfall by including people with diverse perspectives, different knowledge bases and skill sets, and who can fulfill different roles (e.g., devil’s advocate, consensus builder, BS monitor). These people will ensure that the decision is examined from every possible angle, thus increasing the chances of a good decision being made.

Collect all relevant information. Another pitfall of decision making involves a lack of key information that can result in rendering the best decision. Important information can be missed for several reasons. First, one of the decision makers has already, in their mind, made the decision and excludes information that contradicts that predetermined decision. Second, there is no one involved in the decision with the knowledge or experience to provide that information (see Get the Right People Involved above). Third, the questions being asked are either incorrect or lack the depth or breadth that would ensure the need for essential information to be brought to light. Fourth, time pressures to make the decision may preclude necessary information from being thrown into the mix.

A dearth of information can be mitigated by having the right people involved, looking at the decision from many different angles, and asking the right questions.

Don’t decide too quickly. A rush to a decision can cause you to make a decision before it’s ready to be made. Also, what appears to be an easy decision can also cause a premature conclusion to the decision-making discussion when further exploration may uncover important perspectives and information that would result in a different and potentially better decision.

Important decisions are best not made in haste. Rather, they emerge when allowed to percolate within individuals and among a group. Give yourself time, both in active discussion and quiet contemplation, to allow the best decision to arise naturally.

Be realistic. A key part of the decision-making process involves NOT looking at the decision through ‘rose-colored glasses,’ in other words, to see it for what it is, not for what you would like it to be. There are a number of cognitive biases that cause us to be unrealistic in how we perceive, interpret, evaluate, and, ultimately, make decisions.

As part of your decision-making calculus, you should consciously separate your wishful thinking from your critical thinking. Also, look at the worst-case scenarios of each alternative and weigh their likelihood. The more grounded you can be in what is realistic, the better chance you have of making a decision that actually plays nice with reality.

Evaluate the process. A mistake that many individuals and companies make is, once a decision is made, to put it behind them. Yes, as the well-known quote goes, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

An essential part of the decision-making process is to circle back after the decision has been made and new information about its efficacy is available. With the benefit of hindsight, you can do a ‘forensic analysis’ and determine what you did well and what you missed in your recent decision. You can then use the lessons learned from this evaluation to improve decision making in the future.

Ultimately, there is no way to be sure that the so-called right decision has been made before it has been made and acted on. All you can do is ensure that the process of decision making is deliberately and painstakingly executed. That doesn’t guarantee the best decision, but it sure makes it a lot more likely.

Weave Compassion into the Fabric of Your Family’s Lives

Compassion-1Your family life is rife with rituals that can send messages of compassion, kindness, and sharing to your children. When you sit down for a meal, you are sharing your food and each other’s company. When you hug and kiss your children good night, you are sharing your love. When you play games together, you are sharing your time. When you tell your children stories, you are sharing your knowledge and your imagination.

Our daughter Catie has a job chart on which she places little magnets signifying that she fulfilled her responsibilities that day. One of her responsibilities is to “be kind.” Every evening while completing her job chart, she has to recount to whom and how she was kind that day.

Both of our daughters have a piggy bank in which they deposit their weekly allowance. We ask them to donate 25 percent of their allowance to charity. Every few months, they take their charitable savings and donate it to a cause of their choice. In the past, they have given their money to earthquake victims in Haiti, a local non-profit organization that takes care of injured animals, and to a nearby homeless shelter. In all cases, Catie and Gracie take the money out of their piggy banks, put it in little purses, and delivers it personally to the charity.

Some friends of ours, Dirk and Emily, have a ritual with their son that involves giving away, rather than selling, his old clothes, books, and toys. They’ve told him that they choose to give away things that they could sell because there are many families that aren’t as fortunate as they and can’t afford to buy everything they need. Every time their son gets something new, he has to give away an old item (this also reduces clutter in their home).

Ron and Georgia participate in a local program called Homeward Bound in which they take turns with other families buying, packing, and delivering groceries to families living at a homeless shelter. Every other month, they and their three children complete a ritual to support Homeward Bound. The family sits down at the kitchen table and compiles a list of groceries they want to buy, paying special attention to the time of year and the upcoming holidays. The kids paint the shopping bags that will hold the food in bright colors and make cards for the family. Each of their children also selects a small toy from their room for the children of the recipient family. The entire family then goes to the supermarket and the children are responsible for finding and checking off the items on the grocery list. When they get home, the family packs the groceries and then delivers them to the family at the shelter. Ron and Georgia’s children introduce themselves to the family and hand the shopping bags full of food to them. At dinner after the delivery, everyone shares what the experience meant to them, what they learned from meeting the family, and one other thing that they might do to express their compassion.

Yes, acts of compassion can be big and noticeable. Yet, the power of compassion learned by children is best woven into the fabric of your family’s lives. Every little act of compassion that you and your children engage in or see within your circle of family, friends, and neighbors every day sends indelible messages of kindness, caring, and sharing that will be embraced and expressed by your children throughout their lives.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).