Thursday, August 4, 2011


It's easy to look back on mistakes in judgment and see all the warning signs that we ignored-- just like it's easy for the Monday morning armchair quarterback to identify all the "shoulda s" and "coulda s" that "woulda" saved the game, but how do we spot these warning signs or red flags when we can actually do something about them?

First of all, if you suddenly feel that funny thing on the back of your neck that says, "this feels uncomfortable and wrong" it probably is! Our instinct to avoid danger is a protective feeling rooted in our biology that we too often ignore because we can override it with "evidence" that temporarily satisfies our misgivings and supports our powerful but unrealistic fantasies and desires.

Bernie Madoff victims when interviewed stated that they were initally skeptical of the ease and consistency of the high rates of return, yet as they observed the wealth, the respect given to Madoff and the testimonals of other investors, they went ahead with their investments--to their everlasting regret. If they were living in a primitive world of survival where danger and caution would have been related to a dangerous animal, a warring tribe or a pending environmental disaster, they would have honored their initial instinct. They would have avoided danger by running in the opposite direction and not thought twice about it till the next time the instinct was aroused. There was no time for second guessing or excuse making. Our ancestors needed to act on that first initial "danger" impression in order to survive. In our highly developed society, the threats are not so apparent and many times are in the form of friends, neighbors, lovers; even pretty places and things and therefore, easy to ignore. Yet our warning instinct is still with us. How can we use it to prevent big mistakes in our lives? We can't avoid all mistakes and we really don't want to if we want to learn, grow and develop, but we all have some mistakes and lapses in judgement that run the gamut from disastrous to embarassing that we could have done without, right?

I remember interviewing for a "dream" job once, when I started to get a very strong feeling that there was no way they could honor all of the promises that they were making. I looked around at the empty offices and the idle employees and almost laughed out loud when the owner said, "We believe in fully paid vacations for our employees. Where does your family want to go on vacation? Disneyland? Two weeks at a cabin resort?" I bit my lip and smiled, yet I went ahead and accepted the position! Why? Because several of the other new hires were respected in the field and my thinking was "if they had signed on then everything must be OK, right?" The owners also said that there was enough funds to pay everyone's salary for two years even if we didn't have one client come in the door. "What?!!!!! my instinct yelled--what investor would watch his funds diminish and not expect a return for two years?" But, because the thought of working in a new, beautiful office with a steady substantial salary with no pressure for clients was so tantalizing to me, I completely overrode that funny thing on the back of my neck that screamed: "This is wrong, don't do it!" Less than three months later, I was in the first wave of those let go. In any other situation this would have been devasting to me, but it wasn't because it confirmed all of my preceding warning instincts and that was strangely comforting and validating. I ended up in a very good place in my vocational life after this bizarre experience, but I shudder when I think of how I allowed myself to be involved in such a dishonest, dysfunctional organization when I "knew" from the beginning that it was going to fail. (It is now completely defunct.)

There are several ways we can enhance our ability to honor our inner voice of warning--heed the red flags--and thus prevent a lot of heartache--that is why it is there--it is a preventative tool that we can hone and sharpen.

1. Set aside time everyday to reflect, review and ponder your experiences. Everyday events--both minor and major--impact our thoughts and feelings and in turn our behavior. Processing and evaluating, then integrating these experiences into our lives, help us to truly know and trust ourselves and conciously decide how we want to behave at present and in the future.

2. Practice daily relaxation exercises. This helps to calm the body and the mind and allows you to "step back" and make decisions from a more objective and realistic vantage point.

3. Read, Learn, ask for advice. Education and information gathering reveal facts that, no matter how disturbing they may be, are hard to ignore; but, don't accept all "facts" at face value--find out for yourself. Sometimes we don't want to know the facts because they will blow the cover off our fantasy or what we hoped was true and this is just too disappointing--but wouldn't you want to find out the truth sooner than later?...before more time is wasted, money spent, or hearts broken?

4. Observe, Be quiet and Listen. When you are with others, a lot of knowledge can be gained just by observation. How do they treat people? What do they do with their time? What do they talk about? What do they do when service is needed or someone or something needs attending to? Do they stay around for the "heavy lifting" or (as LDS church members can relate) when the folding chairs in the overflow need to be put away? I think it was on Oprah years ago that I first heard something like: "when people tell you who they are, believe them!"

5. Play the "likely/unlikely" game. It works like this: When something is important to you and you are relying on someone or something outside of yourself to make it happen, help you, or just to do their part, ask yourself this question: "Is it likely or unlikely that __(fill in the blank with name, place or thing)_______ will__________(action)______? Then answer the question with what you have come to know is most likely the truth. More often than not, you will be right. We often know the truth--we just don't like to admit it unless it fits our schema.

When red flags are ignored--we make up a lot of excuses for someone or something--we put blinders on and hope for the best--but this is when we fool ourselves and set ourselves up for disappointment. Again, the truth may hurt, but if you choose to ignore a red flag, it does make the consequences a little easier to accept--you are not a victim--you knew and yet you chose it.
The question then becomes: "Now, what are you going to do about it"? (live with it, make the best of it, leave it, change it, etc...).

What will you do the next time you feel that "funny thing on the back of your neck"?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Little Known Flipside of "Hipster Mommy Bloggers"

There's been a lot of buzz lately about an article that was published at, "Why I Can't Stop Reading Mormon Housewife Blogs" (1/15/11) by Emily Matchar. Ms. Matchar talks about her fascination with "Hipster Mommy Bloggers" who live in a Pleasantville-type world of home-baked cupcakes, chubby, happy babies, adorably decorated children's rooms, photos of "happy, shiny people holding hands" (1991, R.E.M.) and everything else that signifies the warm glow of ultimate domesticity. I've looked at a few of the blogs she mentions in her article and a few of those of mostly younger friends, and just like the Christmas newsletter of yesteryear, they do present a perfect snapshot of domestic bliss and achievement which can leave the reader feeling inspired and motivated or despairing, guilty and jealous as they compare the weaknesses and imperfections in their lives and families to the seeming perfection and strength of the one on display. It is a little like comparing the best living room in the neighborhood all ready for company to your basement which hasn't been touched for several (if ever) years. (Why do we do this to ourselves?--but that is an entirely different topic for another day)!

It is interesting that the "Mommy" blog trend seems to be mostly authored by young women as opposed to middle aged mothers, and the difference being the younger ones growing up in a technology driven world, I don't think is the main reason why this is so. Older or middle aged moms, having lived long enough to be buffeted by the storms of life which include growing old with (or divorcing) those "cute, lumberjack shirt wearing husbands" and watching those "Baby Gap"-like model kids suffer the twists and turns of their own lives that no cupcake in their lunchbox can make all better, smile knowingly to themselves and shake their heads amusedly at the naive idealism and the "look at me" self importance that these bloggers seem to purvey. One also wonders what the husbands of these bloggers blogs would look like if they had the time for it. (Does anyone know of any "daddy blogs" out there?)
In my counseling practice, there has presented more than one young husband--scared silly, and feeling a lot of pressure "breaking my hump" to financially and otherwise support and go along with all of these activities--who has admitted that this is NOT what he signed up for when he wanted to marry--most of them pictured themselves at the forefront of their "lover/wife's" attentions and that does not mean he did not want to have children and a family--he did! But he just did not know it would be like this!--"a lot of work and chaos". The thought of the less than enthusiastic husband behind the scenes, begs this question: "For whom is all this effort made?" and "Where does he figure in to it all?"

So, I guess we can all enjoy looking at these pretty pictures--which they most definitely are--and feel the pleasantness that comes by imagining the lifestyles portrayed and, yes, even be thankful to mommy bloggers who take the time to entertain and produce these things for us (just like we do our favorite authors, artists and moviemakers). And, if they inspire us to live our very own, (not what we think, by comparison, they should be), personal dreams as we take into account those of our mates and children as well, then so much more the wonderful!

(Now, excuse me, but I'm going to go read about the mom who ran a marathon six weeks after the birth of her triplets who, by the way, are cheering her on in their hand knitted (by her) "Yo Gabba Gabba" sweaters! Amazing, isn't it?)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FORGIVENESS - Letting Go of Past Mistakes

Letting go of others' past mistakes and the hurt that they have caused us has come up quite a bit in recent sessions lately--particularly those with couples. In my experience, this presents as a major problem for many couples,especially those that have a long history of ignoring problems--sweeping them under the rug, hoping they will go away and simply resolve on their own. Unfortunately, they never do resolve "on their own". Sometimes it may seem like it, but more often than not they just go deeper underground only to erupt at startling times over seemingly unrelated issues. The offender (or the target) suppposes that the problem is the current issue at hand and is surprised at the level of emotion that is expressed over it. Both parties don't understand that it is not just the "triggering event" that is causing the out of proportion reaction-it goes far deeper--it also contains past hurt and pain that has been suppressed over a (sometimes very long) period of time. As time goes on and the same problems reoccur or remain unaddressed, the offender goes on his or her merry way oblivious to the pain of the other, but often all parties involved know fully well what these grudges are; what we don't know is just how destructive they can be. They can do damage in all areas--even areas that are totally unrelated to the original offense or problem. How do we stop the damage, repair it with forgiveness and move forward?

A recent example that presented in a session:

A husband was playing scrabble with his wife and a few friends. One of the words he had spelled out, to most people simply describes a place. But to his wife, it conjoured up memories and her feelings of inferiority, past examples of his insensitivity to her and fearful feelings of abandonment. At that point in the evening, she immediately shut down, quit talking and became cool and aloof. When the friends left and the husband asked what was the matter, the couple engaged in a full blown fight in which she detailed all of the past mistakes and hurts that the husband's behavior had inflicted on her over the relatively short period of time of their relationship. The husband was blindsided by the weaponry she had been storing. It was difficult for him to aplogize and ask for forgiveness for the impact of the hurts of which he wasn't fully aware that he had caused her ( although he did have a clue--he just hadn't bothered checking it out by communicating with her). As he came to understand why and how these incidents had hurt her, he tried to apologize and expressed the desire to wipe the slate clean. She had a harder time making a fresh start. Whenever there was a hint that he was not sensitively refraining from triggering these feelings, she would remind him of his past mistakes. They had talked about them so much they even had titles. Each knew what the other was talking about with a three or four word title, e.g., "the hitchhiking incident". This couple was stuck. She needed to forgive him and he needed to truly understand his part in keeping this cycle going before they could move on. Finally, the wife made a list of all the past wrongs that she wanted to let go of and for which she wanted to forgive him. When he went over the list, he knew exactly what the wrongs were by the titles. In a symbolic "letting go" ceremony, he expressed his understanding of how his actions had affected her and, without justifiation, blame or excuse, asked for her forgiveness. She committed to never again bring up these past incidents - ripped up the list, deposited it in the kitchen garbage can and then they both took it out to the bin in their apartment complex to be carried away for good. She forgave him. He felt forgiven. He felt relieved he would not be punished any further with ambush reminders. He committed that now he was aware of her special sensitivies in these areas, he would do all he could to prevent future possible hurt. Thus they truly could begin anew. This doesn't mean that they each have to be perfect in this, but their commitment will help them to get back on track right away when and if there is a slip. So far, they each have kept their commitment and their closeness is at an all time high.

True forgiveness is not easy. The concept of forgiveness, although some say is simple, can be in practice, very complex. How do we truly let go of the past and create a fresh start for ourselves and for our relationships with others? What are your thoughts...have you done this? If so, how?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Is The Purpose of Your Marriage?

"What? What do you mean 'what is the purpose of my marriage?' " Most people will ask (somewhat indignantly), because isn't it a given that people get married because they fall in love and want to live happily ever after? Yet this assumption mixed with the expectation that "happily ever after" will take care of itself, promotes a hazy "non plan" for the most important endeavor of one's life.
How many of us go into marriage thinking, well..."that's what people do" or "that's the next step of the life process, right?" or "I'm in love so naturally that's what happens next"? Then once married, many couples-having not defined their roles, their expectations or their needs--seem to be "lost" more or less, in their new enterprise. If they had good role models for marriage in their parents or others they may assume that their marriage will automatically "be like that". If they had poor role models, they will want to be "different" but may not know how. After children start arriving, these couples can become even more lost. The work and the effort involved in creating a happy, successful marriage and family can become sheer drudgery or even seem unobtainable as they go from task to task or activity to activity without a sense of an overall goal that guides, uplifts and motivates them.
If you were in school just doing homework, writing papers and studying for tests without the concrete goal of why you are doing this (eventual graduation, great career, etc.), it would be very difficult to stay excited and motivated to keep writing those papers--it's all you would see is just a paper that had to be written and not the reason why. How demoralizing would that be?
So many times, when their purpose isn't defined, people will fall into one that they otherwise would not have conciously chosen (like the husband who falls asleep every night in front of the TV). People need stimulation; people need a purpose and if they don't choose one, someone or something will choose them. How often do we see couples--mothers, fathers-- recreating in their own lives and families the very things that they told themselves they would not do?
That is why going into marriage with a firm vision or philosophy of how we want our marriage to be and what kind of "results" we want it to "produce" can be extremely helpful. This may sound unromantic or clinical, but every legitimate, and successful company has a mission statement so why not have one for a marriage? (Which basically is the forming of (it is hoped) a partnership for life (and beyond)!
A mission statement tells what a company does. For example, consider the mission statement of the very successful ice cream company Ben and Jerry's :

"To make, distribute and sell the finest quality, all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment."

What does your "company" do?

How quickly could you articulate what you do as a couple? Did a statement that sums up your goals, philosophy and purpose flow readily? If not, do you want to think about and define this further? How about a mission statement for your marriage?

A mission statement clarifies your purpose and focuses your energy. It motivates and inspires and paints the big picture of what your "company" does. It describes how you do and why you do it. Marriage is work, it is about purpose and it is about creating. Creating is work, requires vision and a plan. Afterall, you are creating a world together--you are building a life.

Where to begin?
  • Articulate your purpose, but do it as if you were explaining yourself to the public - what - how - why
  • Sincerely ask yourselves: "What do we stand for?" What is our fundamental purpose?" "Why do we exist?" "What's important for the future?"
Developing your mission statement can be started by simply using the phrases:
"We are..." "We like..." for as many items you feel are important. For example:
  • We like to learn new activities
  • We take very opportunity to learn something new
  • We do not go into debt
  • We give service to others on a regular basis
  • We are neat and organized as we do our best in a clean and calm environment
  • We are very loving to each other and make it a priority to contribute to the other's happiness in a real way each day.
  • We are physically active
  • We exercise everyday
  • We like to be prepared for whatever physical challenges come our way
As you work on your mission statement together you will find out what is important to each other. Many times we find out something new or something we didn't understand how important it is to our spouse--even if you've been married for years.
Once your statement is developed and written (maybe even framed and hanging on the wall!) you can put your statement to work. As you set specific goals and choose specific actions, run them through your mission statement. If they do not go along with it or are not supported by it, then you can make adjustments and get back on track. (Using artifical flavoring and making their ice cream in a smoke emiting factory would never be supported by Ben and Jerry's statement, hence they would never do it!)

One of my favorite young couples developed the following mission statement:

"We are a unified, loving, friendly family that is close knitted. The communication in our family will bring us closer together and creat trust and deep rooted bonds that are not easily broken. We are an eternal family which will require obedience to all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We are a physcially fit, morally straight and mentally awake family."

When this couple (family) set specfic goals they included: family dinner at the dining table nightly, weekly date for couple in addition to weekly family outing, kneeling, nightly prayer, and performing weekly service to someone in need. You can see that all of these specific things are things that contribute to and are supported by their mission statement.

Try writing yours and see what a difference this can make in your attitude and choices as you go through the daily steps, routines, schedules, work and activities that eventually become the sum of your life.

Who knows what "euphoric concoction" your marriage will become!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to School Part III: Making and Being a Friend

Once the groundwork for individual growth, acceptance of self (just as is!) and confidence building is established (Part I- see post of 9/8/10), and the basics for relating to and getting along with others (Part II- see post of 9/22/10), are understood, a child is comfortably ready to form new relationships and deepen those that are already in place (siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc.) .

Think back to your early school days--remember the kid who was particularly well liked by everyone? What qualities did he or she have?

Children who are well liked by others have some common characteristics:

  • They are friendly to others;

  • They show empathy and compassion (are aware of and help others in distress);

  • They are sensitive to others and have good communication skills;

  • They dress nicely (not expensively!) and have good hygiene;

  • They are well rounded and will try new things;

  • They are comfortable with themselves--they don't "try too hard."

If a child can interact successfully with peers, self esteem and confidence in his or her abilites will continue to increase and the resulting companionship and emotional support of peers will be a huge boost to the child's sense of wellbeing.

These early friendships help the child learn emotional commitment to others which is essential in forming long term relationships as an adult.

As long as we are remembering our school days and the kids who were well liked...on the otherhand, think about the kids who were rejected and avoided by their peers---the kids who weren't invited to parties or after school activites. These children often act impulsively or lack self control. They may also be aggressive, hostile or disruptive. Children who seek flamboyantly to be the "teacher's pet" or relish the part of the "tattler" are usually shunned in the lunchroom and playground as well. Physical appearance as well as behavior can also play a part. Although excessive shyness may add to the difficulty of making friends, it is usually the lack of social skills as described above that are the problem.

What can we as parents to to encourage the behaviors of friendly children?

1. Read lots of stories to your child that focus on examples of friendship. Ask questions about the stories and have them think about and name the qualities of the characters that make them a good friend.

2. When watching movies or TV programs, discuss the examples of characters who are being good (and not so good) friends and those who are acting socially appropriately (and those who are not)--their possible motives and of course, the consequences of their behavior.

3. Try this exercise: have your child make a list of "Things I Do to Be a Good Friend" and a list that starts with "I Like a Friend Who..." This will encourage them to think of what it is to be a friend and reinforce appropriate behavior when a situation presents itself at school.

4. Read an age appropriate book about manners/social skills. One that I love for elementary age children (it may be out of print) is the Weekly Reader's Book of Manners by Lucille E. Sette. It is simple and straightforward and discusses many common social situations in which children find themselves. (My adult children can still repeat the rhyming statements at the end of each lesson)!

5. Allow your child lots of say in choosing his or her clothing and hairstyle (they know best what's accepted and approved of in their school environment) and most important, teach them physical self-care and grooming skills. Take care of medical and physical problems right away--one little girl suffered needlessly the entire school year with the unwelcome curiosity and repulsion by her peers over the warts on her hand.

6. Don't get too involved (no hovering!). One mother, worried about her son's lack of friends, sent him to school with weekly treats for a time and then invited all of the kids over for a pizza party. When he quit bringing the treats, his "friends" disappeared. This left him feeling more lonely than ever with the message that "friendship" was conditional on something outside of himself. It would have been better for him to gradually find his way and develop one or two friends that accepted and liked him "just as he is!"

7. Remember that children (and for that matter teenagers and adults) need only one or two truly good (best) friends. While it is important to be friendly and to interact socially appropriately to all others, it is not necessary to have a Facebook full of "friends" in order for one to be validated and considered important. Reflect on your philosophy of the role friends and friendship plays in your life and think about how this may be affecting your child.

8. Role model being a good friend and being friendly yourself--the most important lessons a child learns are not those he hears but those he observes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Back to School Part II: Understanding Others and Making Friends

Once the groundwork has been laid for personal confidence and understanding of self in children, understanding others is the next level in developing social skills. As we have previously discussed, (Back to School Part I - September 8, 2010), when children understand and accept (in positive ways) their own strengths and weaknesses, they are more apt to accept and understand their peers without undue competiton, comparison, jealousy, or putting down of self.
Developing empathy or the ability to relate to the feelings of others by, in essence "putting yourself in someone else's shoes" is the first step in the ability to relate and connect to others.

Parents can foster the development of empathy by helping the child focus on others in everyday social situations.

When her daughter was acting out a movie, one mother took the child into the lobby and asked her to look around at the other movie goers and think about how her behavior was affecting them. The daughter was able to state something to the effect of: "maybe it's someone's birthday and they are excited to come to the movie but I'm kicking their seat and ruining it for them." When the child calmed down, she was given another chance. She watched the remainder of the movie with more awareness of the others around her as people with needs and feelings just like her.

Imagining what others may be feeling and experiencing is to also get in touch with your own feelings. When children learn and practice "the golden rule": "treat others as you would like to be treated" - it produces a feeling of connection to society and on a larger scale, all of humanity. This in turn produces confidence as well as a sense of worth and belonging.

Parents can role model empathy at home by not criticizing or putting down others in front of their children. Speaking negatively of others at home, programs the child to look for the negative in not only the person who is being put down but people in general. Discussing characters and scenarios from books and TV programs and asking them what the character may be feeling and perhaps why he or she made a particular choice can also be helpful. And, just moving about in society with our children as we do our errands, eat out, go to church, etc., provides limitless examples for empathy and demonstrations of cooperation--which is the next essential skill.

Cooperation is the action of two or more people in a given situation that will benefit them all. Cooperation is sometimes not entirely getting your way, but enough of your way to accomplish a task or the goal at hand. Children can be taught to see that cooperation, especially in group social situations and activities, is very beneficial and a way to bring your strengths to a common cause. Again, this promotes a sense of connection and contribution. Cooperating leads to the development of problem solving skills which not only are essential on the playground or classroom but in all areas of our lives on a daily basis.

When children learn and practice solving their peer (or any day to day) problems on their own, their ability to take care of and assert themselves is strengthened.
Primary Children's Medical Center Residential Treatment Center (one of the places where I had an internship) had a brillant formula to help children learn to problem solve (this works great for adults too). The Problem Solving Steps are numbered below:

1. Ask (yourself) "What am I feeling?"
2. "What is the problem?"
3. "What are my choices?"
4. "What will happen with each choice?"
5. Make a choice.
6. Be happy with my choice.

I add the caveat: "If you are not happy with your choice, you can make another one next time." These simple steps, when practiced regularly at first, become automatic. I've seen children work through the steps in a matter of moments in their heads. Most of the time, the best choice is made and a feeling of self control and confidence is promoted.
  • Understanding and acceptance of self,
  • Empathy,
  • Cooperation
  • Problem solving skills
Once these principles are in place, making friends and being a friend are skills that can be developed easily and quickly.

***Question for readers: What would you add to the above list of essential social skills?

Next time: Back to School-Part III: Making and Being a Friend

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part I: Back To School: Helping Kids "Fit In" - Developing Self Esteem

Problems at school that have been pushed aside during the summer months once again begin to rear their ugly little heads as the kids go back to school. The carefree, low pressure days of summer make way to the routines, structure and the expectations of the new school year, not to mention all of those new people--peers and teachers-- that have to be met! Getting along with, let alone making friends with all the people involved in the school day requires the development of social skills and the knowledge of social rules that can seem overwhelming, yet they are things of which middle childhood (ages 6-12) children are very capable.

One mother asked for advice on helping her elementary school age daughter (lst grade) make and keep friends as this had been a problem for the little girl in Kindergarten.

When children are around their peers they begin right away to make social comparisons. They identify their personal strengths and weakness as they compare themselves to others. The self concept is formed based on these known (and perceived) weaknesses and strengths which in turn become the basis of self esteem.

Many parents make the mistake of burdening their child with qualities that are not based on reality or the evidence that the child understands and perceives as true in the world around them. One mother told her daughter constantly that "you are the smartest girl in the world". She wrote this on the daughter's mirror and left notes in her things for her to find. When the daughter began comparing herself to others she felt that there were others that were just as smart or even smarter. She became confused and when she told her mom that "Suzy" was smart also, her mother in a misguided attempt to build self esteem would tell her "But not like you. You are the smartest". Instead of acknowleging the qualities of others and her daughter in a healthy realistic way, she was creating a confusing fantasy world that resulted in extreme competiveness. When others in the real world did not subscribe to the "fact" that she was the smartest of them all, she became depressed and unhappy as well as mistrustful of her mother--the very person she needed to trust the most. Security for children comes when they can trust their parents to take care of them and acknowledge--(which is to accept) who they are with a warm, and nurturing attitude.

Judy Herr, an expert in childhood development, identifies five areas that children base their self worth upon:
  • Academic Competence
  • Athletic Competence
  • Physical Appearance
  • Behavior
  • Social Acceptance
...and they don't have to be "the best" in any one of them and certainly not all five! If they do happen to be the best when competing (contests, tests, games, etc., this is a wonderful bonus!)

Tips for Promoting Self Esteem:

  1. Do not compare children - by avoiding comparisons among children you will be helping children develop confidence in their own unique abilities and they will feel better about themselves.
  2. View accomplishments in the context of the child's ability and effort.
  3. Help children avoid feelings of helplessness -- help them to understand the concepts of "don't give up" and "try, try again".
  4. Encourage children to persist at difficult tasks.
  5. Help them believe that they can overcome failure - "I know you can do this--let's try again."
  6. Celebrate when the child succeeds.
  7. Provide them with feedback as to why they succeeded.

(adapted from Judy Herr, Working With Young Children.)

Another essential rule: avoid put downs or name calling of any kind in the family--this should be a given, yet it is amazing to me how much this does occur.

And possibly most important: Be a good role model--How is your self esteem?

Next time: Part II: Back to School - "Understanding Others and Making Friends"