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7 Prevention Steps to Reduce Child Deaths from Hot Cars

Last updated on July 17th, 2021 at 09:21 pm

Thirty-eight children, on average, die each year from heat stroke after being left in or becoming trapped in a hot car, according to KidsandCars.org, a website dedicated to improving child safety around and in cars. Unfortunately, in 2010 the number of children who died was 49 and there have already been numerous deaths this year, only part of the way through the summer season. There are several steps parents can take to lower the risk of these preventable deaths and keep their children safe.

NEVER leave a child of any age alone in a car for any period of time. Too often a parent will think that they will “only be gone for a minute”. That short “minute” almost always turns into longer than the parent realizes and it only takes a few minutes for the temperature inside a car to dramatically increase by 20 or more degrees.

According to KidsandCars.org,

“A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s. Even with the windows partially down, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 125 degrees in just minutes. Leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature attained.”

Kids have a greater risk of heat stroke than adults partly because their skin surface area is greater in proportion to their body mass therefore they absorb more heat. Children also do not sweat as much as adults and start sweating at higher temperatures, which means they are not able to cool their bodies as quickly or as well as adults.

  • Develop the habit of always looking in the backseat when you get out of your car, before locking it.
  • Leave yourself a reminder. With the majority of children riding in the backseat, and especially with babies and toddlers riding in rear-facing car seats, it is important to have a reminder that the child is in the car with you. In over 50% of these deaths, a child was unintentionally left in the car. While some parents may believe they could never forget their child in a car, keep in mind, no one’s memory is perfect and it only takes a short lapse in memory, either from sleep deprivation, distraction, a change in your normal routine, or for any other reason, to accidentally forget a quiet or sleeping child is in the car. It is recommended to leave your purse, briefcase, cell phone, gym bag, or ID near the child’s car seat in the backseat so you will be reminded to look back there when you exit the car. Another idea is to keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When you put the child in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat or floorboard where you will notice it.
  • Consider investing in a child reminder or alert system. Many of these devices work in a similar fashion as the sounds your car makes when you have left the key in the ignition or a seat belt reminder and other bells and whistles that alert you to a potential problem. Some of the better systems that are on the market according to “Safewise” include:
    • Ride N Remind – Back Seat Reminder System, a bit pricey and requires professional installation but can work for several kids (and pets too) – available at Amazon.
    • STEELMATE Baby Car Seat Reminder, Less expensive – DIY installation – alerts with lights and sounds – available at Amazon
    • Shynerk Baby Car Mirror for Rear Facing Infant Seats, Least expensive, – comes fully assembled, crash tested and certified – available at Amazon
  • If your child attends a daycare or has a babysitter, ask the caregiver to call you if the child does not arrive when expected. Sadly, many children have been accidentally left in cars simply because the parent forgot to drop off the child at daycare and instead went straight to work and the daycare or babysitter assumed the child just wasn’t coming that day and the parent must have forgot to tell them.
  • If your child will be transported by anyone other than you, ask the caregiver to use these tips and call and check on your child periodically, especially if the child is not in that person’s car very often. Grandparents, other relatives, and babysitters who do not transport a child every day are at a higher risk of accidentally forgetting a child is in the car with them.
  • Whenever possible, use drive-thru services so you do not have to get out of the car while running errands. Pay for fuel at the pump so you don’t have to leave the car.
  • Keep your vehicle locked at all times when no one is in it and keep keys and remote key fobs out of the reach of children. Teach kids never to play in a car, never to climb into a car trunk, and to never get in a car alone.

If you see a child who has been left in a car, take action immediately to help them. Call 911 if the child seems hot or is having any heat-related symptoms.

For more information, please visit KidsandCars.org.

How to Include The Family Dog In Summer Trips & Activities

Last updated on July 17th, 2021 at 09:21 pm

Right around Christmas time, I wrote an article about safely traveling for the holidays with your pet. We touched on many things from car safety (using proper harnesses and seat-belts and being in the back seat) to night-safety guidelines and which ‘tools’ were the best to use and which ones to leave at home (with respect to leashes and collars). If you missed this article, here is the link so you can get up to speed on some important safety information.

While all of those same suggestions apply now, there are other things to take into consideration during the hot summer months if you’re planning to include the dog in your activities. Whether you are going for just a day trip, or an extended vacation by car or RV, here are some things you are going to want to keep in mind for safety this summer.

For Prolonged Car Rides, RV Trips AND “Detours” Along The Way:

  • Never leave your pet in the car: Just like you’d never leave your child unattended in the car, never leave your dog in one either. It heats up and becomes a furnace very quickly… and since most pets have a ‘built-in’ fur coat, they can over-heat that much faster! Oftentimes we think ‘we’re only running in quickly, they’ll be fine just for those few minutes’. But let’s face it, when traveling with kids, those few minutes can turn into much longer than you expected just trying to corral them back into the car! And don’t forget that Fido might need a bathroom break and to stretch his legs too!
  • Sight-seeing and tourist attractions along the way: If you plan on doing some sight-seeing along the way, map out your trip in advance, and figure out the spots you want to stop at and go sightseeing.
    • If they are indoor spots (like a museum) or a theme or water park, unless your dog is a Service Dog, they are generally not permitted inside. Do your research way in advance, and get some suggestions on local kennels or pet-sitters in those immediate areas, and find out what their availability is, and if you need to make a reservation. *Note: Many of the theme parks such as Disney and Epcot Center have on-site kennels. This way your time with the kids is not rushed and you know your pooch is safe while you enjoy some quality family time together.
    • If they are outdoor spots, like walking or nature trails, a lake to swim in, or picnic spots, and your dog is welcome there (call in advance just to make sure this is still the case) make sure you bring plenty of fresh water for them as well as for yourself and the kids. You never know what kind of bacteria or microorganisms might be living in any specific lake or body of water, so providing frequent drinks for your pet will reduce their ‘natural instinct’ to drink from any source available if they are thirsty. Many pet stores (and Amazon) offer collapsible water dishes that even have a carabineer to attach to your belt-loop.

Full Day Outings

  • A full day of hiking: If you will be hiking for several hours, you’ve probably packed snacks for the kids. Make sure to bring some food for your dog to snack on too. Think about it- after an hour, we often feel hungry… not necessarily for a full meal, but a quick ‘pick-me-up snack’. Your dog is no different. So make sure you bring some extra kibble along, or some milk bones for them to snack on. Avoid training treats and small chewy snacks… as they are very high in sodium content, and will make your dog dehydrate faster, and be thirstier. Another type of collapsible dish offers food AND water capacity
  • Be aware of signs / symptoms of heat exhaustion AND heat stroke for both your children and your pets…

  • Hot pavement and rocky terrain: Another thing to take into consideration when hiking with the kids and pets…. Consider for a moment all the reasons you wouldn’t have your child hike barefoot. Those same reasons apply plus a few more. On top of the potential for possible cuts from rocks, and burns from hot pavement (some trails are partially paved), while dogs primarily ‘sweat’ through excessive panting, they also have a small amount of sweat glands that are prominently in the paw pads. If the pads get burns, or dry out and crack, it can cause your dog to overheat that much faster. Besides the boots your dog can wear for winter or rain, some new ‘“ultra cool” – breathable boots’ boots were created with a ‘cool down’ feature which will protect them from overheating as well as prevent cuts and scrapes. I also like to use a product called ‘Musher’s Secret’. This is a wax that goes on their paws and protects them from the heat.
  • Sunburn: Beyond packing water for everyone (kids and dogs) and making sure they get shade, many people do not realize that their dogs are just as susceptible to sunburns – and even skin cancer – as their kids are! Here is a link to a very informative article to learn more about which dogs are more prone to sunburns, which areas on the dog’s body are more apt to be affected, how to treat it, and more importantly, how to avoid it…and don’t forget to bring sunscreen for your kid’s delicate skin too!
  • Keep your dog on leash at all times: I know, I know…. The point of being out in nature is to explore and be free! And it is fun to give them the chance to be free and watch them explore new things! But what if the ‘new thing’ they want to explore can potentially be dangerous? Like another dog that comes by that is not so friendly? Or a wild animal that they decide to suddenly chase after? Or worse: A child who is AFRAID of dogs, that does not know your dog is a sweet and friendly outgoing mutt that just wants to say hello? Oftentimes, in their panic, they run, and can get hurt. I will be the first to say that as a professional dog trainer, my dog has an amazing recall…. But he is still a dog… not a robot! This is not his every day environment…. and when new and exciting things are all around him, can I 100% guarantee that he will listen to me when I call him back? Nope – not unless I have him on a leash. And please…. Leave the retractable leashes at home! The purpose of the leash is to give you full control at all times. Retractable leashes cannot guarantee that. I recommend nothing longer than a 6 foot leash. One last comment on this: If your dog is friendly and sweet with those he knows but not very social with unknown dogs and people, they may not be a great candidate for hiking trails. Your dog will smell, hear, and see others long before you do. This is your vacation, but others want to enjoy a peaceful quiet walk on their vacation too! A dog that barks or yaps incessantly, or growls and snaps at others can ruin your vacation and spoil it for others too! Be aware of your dog’s temperament and be considerate of others.
  • Vaccinations and flea and tick preventative: It is important to remember that this is not your backyard… and diseases can be found in many species of wild animals… disease that can immediately affect and harm your dog: and ultimately harm your kids. (see my article about how regular vet visits can help keep your child safe….parts one and two). Also, Make sure your dog is on flea and tick preventative!! Last thing you want are those critters ‘hitching a ride’ on your pet or your kids!! Make sure you do a nightly check of both the kids and pets after a long day of hiking to make sure they are both free of any free-loading cling-ons!!
  • Dog friendly parks: I am going to add one last link that I found to be very informative. A ‘Dog’s guide to visiting National Parks’. It has some great information on some of the National parks and their rules and regulation regarding dogs.

And finally, I’ll end this by saying there are many pet-friendly places to take your whole family (dog included) this summer, but it is vital that you really know your dog and pay close attention to his body language. Unlike your older child who can verbally communicate with you that they are tired and/or hungry… or a baby who gets cranky to convey the same message, your dog cannot tell you what they need or what they are feeling. Being aware of them at all times will enable you to determine when they are enjoying their time with the family, and when they have had enough and need a break. A grumpy tired dog can quickly become an unpredictable one. Don’t forget to do your research in advance, make whatever plans and reservations you need to make, and this will ensure that you, your family, your dog, and others around you will all have a safe and enjoyable summer together!

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Reference: Information for the Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke charts were compiled from the following sources

Raising Kind, Sensitive Children After a Year of Social Distancing

Last updated on June 12th, 2021 at 01:02 pm

“Why should I care how he feels? He’s not my friend.”

“So what if I made him cry. He’s a wimp.”

“How was I supposed to know he would take it so bad? I was just joking.”

Sensitizing children to how someone else feels is a significant and serious enterprise. Kids can’t do this alone – they must be supported, supervised, and encouraged to develop sensitivity and consideration, and parents play a key role in this endeavor.

The true parenting challenge is to use those unplanned moments when a child’s behavior is unacceptable as a learning tool to become more responsive to the feelings of others. Besides, that’s always the best kind of lesson: one that helps the child discover for herself why she should be kind and realize her uncaring, insensitive actions may affect others by understanding how the other person feels.

Martin Hoffman, a world-renowned researcher from the University of Michigan, discovered that the most common discipline technique parents of highly considerate children use is reasoning with them about their uncaring behavior. The parents’ “reasoning lessons” helped sensitize their children to the feelings of others, and realize how their actions have consequences.

It’s an important parenting point to keep in mind in those moments when we confront our own kids for any uncaring deed.

Seven Ways to Squelch Insensitivity and Boost Empathy

Here are seven ideas you can use almost anytime to tune up your child’s awareness of the feelings of others.

1. Praise sensitive, kind actions

One of the simplest and most effective ways of enhancing any behavior is by reinforcing the action as soon as it happens.

Whenever you notice your child acting in a sensitive and caring manner, let her know how pleased it makes you feel:

“Karen, I love how gentle you are with your sister. You treat her so softly, and it makes me so happy knowing how caring you are.”

2. Show the effect of sensitivity

Sensitive, empathic, kind acts – even small ones – can make a big difference in people’s lives, so point them out to help your child see the impact his actions made.

  • “Derrick, your grandmother was so pleased when you called to thank her for the present.”
  • “Suraya, did you see the smile on Ryan’s face when you shared your toys?”

3. Draw attention to nonverbal feeling cues

Pointing out the facial expressions, posture, and mannerisms of people in different emotional states sensitizes your child to other people’s feelings.

As occasions arise, explain your concern and share what clues helped you make your feeling assessment.

  • “Did you notice Grandma’s face when you were talking with her today? I thought she looked puzzled. Maybe she is having trouble hearing. Why not talk a little louder when you speak with her?”
  • “Did you see the expression on Meghan’s face when you were playing today? She looked worried about something because she had a scowl on her face. Maybe you should ask her if everything is OK.”
  • “Let’s read the book together and look for people who seem mad. Then we can make our face look the same way.”

4. Ask often, “How does he feel?”

One of the easiest ways to nurture your child’s sensitivity is to ask her to ponder how another person feels. As opportunities arise, pose the question often, using situations in books, TV, and movies as well as real life.

  • “How do you think the mommy feels, knowing that her little girl just won the prize?”
  • “The tornado destroyed most of the town in Georgia; see it here on the map? How do you think the people feel?”
  • “How do you think Daddy feels hearing that his mom is so sick?”

Each question forces your child to stop and think about other people’s concerns, and nurtures sensitivity to their needs. Ask those “how would you feel” type questions often.

5. Use the formula: “feels + needs”

Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler, authors of Bringing Up a Moral Child, reviewed studies and found that an effective way to increase sensitivity is to ask children questions to help them discover people’s needs and feelings. Such questions were found to expand children’s awareness of what people might be experiencing. As a result the children became more sensitive to how they might be able to help.

To use the idea with your child, look for occasions to draw attention to people’s feelings and then ask her to guess what the person might need in order to remedy the feeling. Here is how a parent might use the method:

  • Parent: Look at that little girl crying in the sandbox. How do you suppose she feels?
  • Child: I think she is sad.
  • Parent: What do you think she needs to make her feel better?
  • Child: Maybe she could use someone to hug her because she hurt her knee.

6. Explain your disapproval of insensitive behavior

Whenever your child displays insensitivity, be sure to explain why you consider the child’s behavior to be unacceptable and “insensitive.”

Simply explain what concerns you about the behavior, and how you feel about uncaring actions. This is the moment you make sure your child clearly understands what is wrong about the behavior, and why you disapprove. And you’ve helped your child shift his focus from himself to considering how his actions can impact other people. Martin Hoffmann’s research in moral development found that parents who consistently use “reasoning-type stretching lessons” raised more sensitive, caring, empathic children.

  • “I’m very concerned when I see you treating your friends without considering their feelings. You may not treat people unkindly. Let’s talk about ways to be a kind friend.”
  • “That was insensitive: I expect you to treat your friends the same way you’d want to be treated.”

7. Set a consequence if insensitivity continues

If your child continues to display insensitivity towards others’ feelings, then it’s time to set a consequence. Remember, consequences must be meaningful, appropriate to the child’s age and temperament, and “fit the crime.”

The best consequences for insensitivity are also authentic ways for the child to make amends. For example:

  • Forbid your child from playing with a friend until your child understands he must treat others kindly. Your rule is: “If you can’t treat people nicely, you can’t play.”
  • Another option is to demand your child apologize sincerely to the recipient. This might be drawing or writing an apology or apologizing in person or with a phone call.

And keep on in your quest! Find those day-to-day moments to boost your child’s sensitivity. It’s our surest answer to reducing peer cruelty and making the world a kinder and more caring place.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching! UnSelfie is available at amazon.com.

7 Steps to Modeling Respect for Your Children

Last updated on June 12th, 2021 at 01:02 pm

Most parents expect their children to respect them. What are you doing to model respect? Here are seven simple steps to living with respect in your relationships.

  • Be a good listener – Give your child your undivided attention when they are speaking to you.Mother_And_Daughter respect
  • Be fair – Consider your child’s viewpoint and experience before stating your opinion.
  • Be honest – Tell the truth. Be accountable when you make a mistake.
  • Be polite – Use the manners that you expect of your children.
  • Be positive – Focus on the positive side of life. Your child deserves a role model that “lifts them up.” Compliment your children, observe what they do well and celebrate it.
  • Be reliable – Keep your promises. Show your child that you mean what you say. Do as you say and say as you do. Children see the truth through a clearer lens than do adults.
  • Be trustworthy – Keep your children’s heart-felt feelings and experiences private, show them that you can be a trusted adult who cares about their feelings and their self-esteem.

Showing your children that you respect them through your words and actions encourages your children to respect themselves, you and others.

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*This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice for a number of years, and released for publication just this past September. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

Our Super-Successful Kids Are Struggling! How to Help Them Thrive

Last updated on June 12th, 2021 at 01:06 pm

Worried child in front of graffitiWhat if I told you that 1 out of every 3 kids age 6 to 11 is afraid that the Earth won’t exist when they grow up???

WHO are these children??? What if I told you that little kid you just kissed goodnight,,, who got an A on his test…who practiced her cello for hours… what if I told you they were the ones who said it. What if instead I told you they believed it and told NO ONE??? How is it possible this is happening??

Parents, meet the “Running on Empty” Generation – smart and dearly loved, inclusive and open-minded, well-educated with high aspirations for college and their future. From the outside everything you want and more for your child. But take a second look. These kids are less happy, more stressed, lonely, depressed, and suicidal than ANY other generation… and that was BEFORE COVID!

“We are college and career ready, but sure aren’t ‘human’ ready.” Erin, 16 years old

We are raising a generation of “strivers” – kids that are wonderful at reaching for the brass ring, but never feel good enough. We haven’t given them basic survival tools so when the real challenges hit, they often quit because they don’t have the inner reserve that helps them get through it…

“My parents do everything for me. My biggest worry when I leave home is that I’m going to flunk life.” 17-year-old straight-A student, headed for Yale

Surprisingly, despite today’s kids living through the most stressed time in known history – terrorism, lockdown drills, daily pandemic death counts, insurrections, food insecurity, failing power grids, climate crises and racial violence – some kids are not only surviving, but they’re also thriving.

They are bouncing back despite adversity. WHY?

In her new book THRIVERS, Dr. Michele Borba, Ed. D. shares with us the answer.

In the end, these kids – the Thrivers –manage adversity, develop healthy relationships, and embrace change. They are ready and deal proactively with whatever the world throws at them – even in uncertain times, not because of genes, GPA, IQ or a special skill or talent, but through reliance on a few character strengths they learned along the way that helped them steer their lives in a positive direction – helped them PICK THEMSELVES UP whenever their worlds came crashing down.

It is these seven essential Character Strengths that set Thrivers apart and set them up for happiness and greater accomplishment later in life. Self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism – each of these helps safeguard our kids against the depression and anxiety that threatens to derail them. And best of all, these strengths are not something we are born with: from toddler to teen, these can be taught!

But where should you start?? THRIVERS is organized into three parts allowing parent to focus on strengths by category. It’s helpful to understand your child’s “superpowers” – what they’re already good at and can nurture – as well as areas that could use further development.

Consider how you would rate your child on the following: 5 = always, 4 = frequently, 3 = sometimes, 2 = rarely, 1 = never

My Child:

  1. Speaks mostly positively about herself, rarely negatively.
  2. Displays concern and wants to help when someone is treated unfairly or unkindly.
  3. Can be trusted to do the right thing and keep his word even when no one is looking.
  4. Able to manage her own impulses and urges without adult help.
  5. Intrigued or easy to motivate about trying something new, different, or surprising.
  6. Does not become upset when something is difficult; rarely quits but keeps trying.
  7. Can find the silver lining in a hardship or challenge.

As I’m sure you guessed each of these questions represents one of the 7 Character Strengths and is part of a longer assessment that will help you evaluate where your child is right now so you can determine which traits are their natural strengths and which traits need to be encouraged.

Know that these traits are cumulative: each character strength improves a child’s thriving potential as well as academic performance but is always more powerful when combined with another because they create a Multiplier Effect.

Self-Confidence + Curiosity increases self-knowledge and builds self-assuredness and creativity.

Self-Control + Perseverance boosts the chance of reaching a goal and achieving success.

Empathy + Curiosity helps find common ground and strengthens relationships.

At this point some of you may be thinking…yes this all sounds good, but bottom line, I’ve got to give my child every advantage so they can get into the right school because everything depends on that.

But does it? According to Dr. Borba these amazing, brilliant, talented kids are checking out – the urgency in writing this book came from an email from a distraught mom looking for help from her community:

“We have forty dead kids in two-and-a-half years to suicide within a twenty-mile radius. Most are white, affluent, high achieving males who did not use drugs but hung themselves. Most look like your kids and mine. The last seven have been females – two with guns.”

“It’s like we’re being produced to be test takers. We’re missing the pieces on how to be people.” Aaron, 12 years old

The epidemic of unhappy Strivers is real, but it’s not inevitable. We can do something about it. As Dr. Borba says “all our energy has gone into stretching kids’ cognitive abilities and neglecting their human side – the source of energy, joy, inspiration and meaning. The good news: focusing on character can flip that equation and teach your kids how to find happiness, calm and wonder in the world.

But we NEED to pay attention… We SHOULD be worried… WE NEED to listen!!

“There’s an amazing amount of depression and anxiety. Seventy percent of my friends are in therapy; forty percent are on medication. We’re hurting but nobody does anything until another kid is suicidal.” Ava, 15 years old.

One last thought that I’d like to finish with. It is terrifying that our children – even the young ones – go to sleep worried about global warming, pandemics, racial violence, school shootings… the list goes on and on. It is even more terrifying that many of them don’t believe their generation will live to see the future. But there is something Dr. Borba’s book reminded me of that I’d like to share with you, and maybe you can share it with your kids.

Years ago a man named Fred Rogers brought optimism, love and hope to families across the country – and in these dark times we could all use a little of his outlook. With each new terror – each bombing, virus, terrorist attack, natural disaster, hate crime or mass shooting we wonder, “what shall we tell our children?” Fred Rogers had the perfect answer:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in this world”.

My belief, and the reason I share this with all of you, is that this current generation of kids is in pain and they are struggling. Dr. Michele Borba (and THRIVERS) is one of the helpers.

Editors Note: all quotes included in this article, including those attributed to individual children and Fred Rogers can be found in THRIVERS: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

Teaching Kids to Apologize: A Step-by-Step Guide

Last updated on November 8th, 2020 at 02:43 pm

Five steps to help kids learn the lost art of saying “I’m sorry.” The steps work for adults, too!

Have you noticed how apologizing has become almost a lost art these days? A great number of adults – not kids – seem to have forgotten how to say that glorious two-word phrase, “I’m sorry!” And if the offender (whether it be government officials to movie stars to plagiarizing authors to “poor-sport” athletes to our own friends) does give an apology, notice how it often sounds insincere?

Sorry!, the Perfect Book by Trudy Ludwig

How are kids going to learn this great skill unless we model it ourselves? That’s why I adore Trudy Ludwig’s book, “Sorry!” (Tricycle Press – available on amazon or in your local bookstore). It’s plain wonderful. I have to admit I’m a big fan of Trudy’s books (her other books “My Secret Bully” and “Just Kidding” are fabulous also).

Rarely do children’s books model for young readers personal accountability and responsibility the way Sorry! does.

Sorry-TrudyLudwigTrudy’s thoughtful, one-of-a-kind story on the power of apology shows how a child can take ownership of a hurtful behavior and then right his or her wrong. The story also offers invaluable life lessons on empathy and compassion to children (and adults) alike.

Sorry! also helps kids see from the other side — how their actions were hurtful and why they should make amends. And that’s exactly what is missing too often. Kids seem to be on “auto-pilot” when they apologize. “I’m sorry” is said too quickly with no meaning behind those words.

Pick up a copy! It’s one of those perfect books you want to keep on your shelf for the perfect moment.

Five Steps to Giving a Sincere Apology

As you read Trudy’s book and discuss the reasons why it’s important to make amends, teach your kids the simple five steps for apologizing. The skill of apologizing (along with 25 other critical friendship skills) is from my book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them. Many teachers are turning the steps into a chart and posting it in their classroom.

You’ll have to model these steps with your children until they finally understand the parts of a sincere apology.

Keep in mind that the easiest way for kids to learn how to apologize is by copying our own example. So the next time (and the next….and the next….) you make a mistake, admit it to your kids. Just make sure you add two powerful words, “I’m sorry!”

Essential to our children’s moral development is realizing that personal actions do impact others. If you do something that causes another person pain, you need to make amends. The phrases to say to your child as you teach how to apologize are in quotations. Of course, put in your own words and values in your discussion, but remember that the key is that kids need to know there must be sincerity in their words. You’ll also need to take your child’s age and maturity into consideration as you begin the process of teaching the skill. As children’s moral maturity and empathy develops, so will the meaning of their words.

Step 1. Think about what you did wrong.

Get specific. “Did you say something that hurt your friend’s feelings? Did you say something behind her back? What exactly are you sorry for?”

Step 2. Find the best time and place to apologize.

“If you really, really can’t face your friend, you could write a letter or call him on the phone . But find a time when you won’t be interrupted and you can focus on telling the person your concerns.” Usually it’s best to keep the apology private so as not to embarrass your child. But that, of course, depends upon the circumstance.

Step 3. Say what you’re sorry for.

“Be brief, sincere, and honest. Say exactly what you did that you’re sorry for “I…..[fill in what you did]…and then add ‘I’m sorry’. You might want to briefly describe what happened. Your friend may see it differently, so it’s a good idea to share your view of the problem.”

4. Tell how you are going to make things better.

“So what are you going to do about your actions? Tell your friend! Just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t necessarily fix things. Let your friend know what you plan to do to make things better.”

The key here is to help your child think about how the other person feels – disappointed, upset, mad, sad. Discuss the thoughts and feelings that can evolve. Sincere apologies help the injured or hurt child know that the child cares and wants to make things better – not an easy task, especially for a young child. As Ludwig points out: “Making a sincere apology is hard work. It requires personal responsibility and remorse for the wrongdoing, along with a determined effort to make up for the hurt one has caused others.” Stress that apologizing is hard work. It can be embarrassing – after all, the child is admitting he was wrong or even has a weakness! “It actually takes courage and strength to honestly admit the error of our ways,” Ludwig points out.

5. Give your friendship time to heal.

“Remember, you can’t make anybody do anything she doesn’t want to do. And that means you can’t make your friend accept your apology. All you can do is admit you’re wrong and try to make amends.”

Then practice, practice, practice at home so your child can use the skill in the real world.

Showing children a skill is always more powerful than telling them …so model it. Then remember to admit when you’re wrong and say a sincere, “I’m sorry!” to your kids.

When kids recognize there are consequences to their actions which can be helpful or hurtful it helps them take a big leap forward in becoming more thoughtful, compassionate and responsible. Our job as parents is to help stretch our children’s moral development. Stopping and helping our children learn and practice the skills of apologizing is an important part of boosting their character.

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