Category: Well Being


Simple Tools for Cooking with Children

By Mariah Bruehl,

SimpleToolsforCookingwithChildren

1. / 2. / 3. / 4. / 5. / 6. / 7. / 8. / 9. 

A profound insight that I’ve gained from spending time (both professionally and personally) in the company of children, is the powerful connection between diet and behavior. Over the years I have seen consistent patterns between the food children eat and their performance in school.

As a classroom teacher, I learned very quickly that you simply cannot give a child a cupcake + candy and expect her/him to be productive or able to focus. It’s for this reason that we always had birthday celebrations at the end of the day.

This seems like a simple concept, but it has important implications for our children. We need to make sure that the food we feed them and the habits we nurture are in line with our expectations for their behavior.

Making healthy choices is the first step, we can help children take their health to the next level by encouraging them to cultivate the skills needed to prepare nourishing snack and meals for themselves and the people they hold dear.

It’s for this reason that I’ve compiled my favorite tools for teaching even the youngest chefs important skills that will serve them well for years to come!

Below you will find recipe cards that you can cut out and use to make a delicious fruit salad using the tools we love!

Bon appétit!

Dig Deeper

For more great tips and activities that encourage healthy choices try our online workshop, Food For Thought!

Online Class: Food for Thought

Author Focus: Stefanie Sacks

By Mariah Bruehl,

Author Focus: Stefanie Sacks

I am thrilled to be collaborating with Emma Walton Hamilton, Susan Verde, and Stefanie Sacks to offer a Parenting Discussion Series in the studio. I thought it would be fun to do interviews of them here, because they have so many gems of parenting advice to offer. Today I have the honor of bringing you Stefanie Sacks…

Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN is a Culinary Nutritionist, author, consultant, speaker and food firebrand! She has her Masters of Science in nutrition from Columbia University, is a Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist and is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. Stefanie works hands-on with individuals and groups seeking a healthier way of eating. For companies and organizations looking to do the right thing for their consumers and environment, Stefanie is the go-to-gal—her unique background in food and agriculture as well as health and wellness gives her the knowledge and skills to guide groups towards true food transparency, sustainability and ultimately health. Her book, What The Fork Are You Eating? An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate (Tarcher/Penguin Random House) provides an aisle-by-aisle rundown on how to shop and cook healthier.

 

Mariah: In your book, What the Fork Are You Eating?, you call yourself a “moderationist,” when it comes to your diet. Can you explain what that means?

Stefanie: Since the age of fifteen, I dabbled in every food lifestyle imaginable from vegan to vegetarianism, macrobiotics, and special medical diets. Fad diets even had their place in my personal journey to achieve wellness. In the end, real, fresh and nutrient dense food was my answer like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and high humane welfare animal foods. Junk food, such as highly processed food and sweets from beverages to candy (really anything with an ingredient list that reads like a short novel or has words that you can’t pronounce), rarely had a place in my diet but, to this day, I do love chips and the occasional gummy bear. That’s moderation. I teach my kids the same as well as my clients, students, readers and listeners. And, just as someone can overdo junk, they can also overdo healthy (such as too much raw kale can impact thyroid function). Thus, moderate and enjoy your edibles! As Michael Pollan so poignantly says “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

 

Mariah: How can we pass on this view of food to our children?

Stefanie: Before we can pass anything on to our children about food and food choice, we must first get our own authentic edible education (and try to work out personal food issues if we have any!). That’s why I had to write, What The Fork Are You Eating? Sadly, too many people are highly misguided thus I felt a burning need to create a usable (and highly credible) tool for grown-ups and their children. When we have a truthful body of knowledge and counsel on how to communicate with our kids (something I talk about in the book) then we are ready to inspire, empower and offer sustainable guidance.

 

Mariah: What are some tips for raising children who make healthy choices about the foods they eat?

Stefanie: I am a huge proponent of getting kids in the kitchen the moment they can sit in a high chair. I even cooked with my sons while attached to me in their Baby Bjorn. I also took them food shopping and to this day (they are 7 and 10), they are my supermarket sidekicks and help choose foods as we walk the aisles. We also love to frequent farmers markets in season. And my younger son loves to put the groceries away. The more exposure to food, the better. And talking about nourishment as you go is critical. That’s why knowing the right information is important. Because then you can guide them towards healthier choices by shining light in the darkness. Talk about everything from ingredients in packaged foods to flavors in the foods you prepare. And have them cook alongside you (and clean)! Oh, and plant some pots of herbs or create a garden if you haven’t already—another super useful tool for raising healthy eaters!

 

Mariah: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned about trying to pass on your knowledge of food to your children? Have you made any mistakes we can learn from?

Stefanie: I have two boys with two very different palates and eating styles. My older son is a dream eater, my younger would eat jelly beans for breakfast if he could. Thus I have learned to honor what both boys can and will do and guide them towards better when I can. It was very hard for me to do that with my younger son initially. He had clinical feeding problems upon birth (he was born tongue tied and had issues coordinating sucking and swallowing) and I wanted to fix everything. He didn’t touch solid foods until 8 months and when he did, he threw everything up. He denied anything I gave him and I was heartbroken daily as nourishment is what I do—I could help others but I couldn’t help my own son. So I had to step aside and let my husband take the lead. In time I learned to back off and with doing so, we found a balance. He is still a challenge so I have to continually adapt. And I do but it remains a constant uphill battle. I don’t stop involving him in everything food, I just respect the space he needs around what and how he eats. But I can assure you that it is not jelly beans for breakfast!

Before I had kids, I vowed never to be the mom who forbids anything (other than Gatorade, soda and anything artificially sweetened). I had worked with too many parents who did just that and in trying to keep their kids “healthy” they in fact created junk food addicts. So, my kids are like every other kid. When they want super bad junk (like at birthday parties or movies), I allow it but also talk to them about the decisions they are making. After that, I let them choose. Typically they both go for something super colorful but after a few bites, they are done. Though my little one may opt into more than just a “few” bites!

The lessons here are that we must respect funny little eating habits and not force our ideals down our children’s throats. There is no such thing as “food perfection.” Gently offering guidance and giving space will empower kids to do the “right” thing. And as parents, it is our job to provide our them with a variety of healthy foods to choose from daily and to continually offer them an edible education.

Author Focus: Stefanie Sachs

 

In the Studio…

Playful Learning: Parent Discussion Series

3 Wildcrafted Herbs for Summer Days

By Mariah Bruehl,

3 Wildcrafted Herbs for SummerIn our part of the world summer is in full swing.  Despite my best intentions for a stress free summer I find we have a packed schedule of farm work, a garden that demands attention, fun trips out with friends, summer activities and the regular list of chores to do.  Summer days are wonderfully long but can be tiring too.

When I feel a bit below par, or when I notice my kids are looking a little ragged round the edges, I turn to our herbal allies to help boost us up and set us on the right path again.  As well as my own herb garden, I regularly turn to nature’s herbs too; they are a wonderful source of nutrients and don’t put a strain on the family purse.

If you are wondering what I mean by natures herbs, in short it’s weeds.  There are many wonderful wild plants that can be harvested and used safely in our own homes, boosting our health and costing nothing but time.  A nature walk can turn into an opportunity to stock your tea cupboard or medicine cabinet with wonderful tastes and uplifting nutrients.

At this time of year there is an abundance of wild plants available, many are at the peak of their power so it’s a great time to collect and store a little extra for later months.  There is nothing more wonderful than opening a jar of dried herbs in the middle of winter, and drinking in the sweet scent of the summer breeze when summer itself is long gone.

Here are 3 of my favorite herbal allies, easily found in hedgerows and even gardens right now.

3 Wildcrafted Herbs for Summer

Nettle

Also known as Stinging Nettle, this amazing plant is packed full of nutrients.  It’s green leaves are full of iron and even vitamin C, the perfect pick me up on a hot summer day.  Even the seeds can be dried and used, sprinkle them on cereal in the same way you would with flax seed.

To collect you’ll need to be wily.  They’re not called Stinging Nettle for nothing and the stings can be quite sore.  Wear thick gloves (rubber gloves are great) when you snip these plants and then put them in an airy place to dry, out of direct sunlight.  Use as a refreshing tea with a dab of local honey to help fight allergies and restore the nervous system.

3 Wildcrafted Herbs for Summer

Plantain

It makes sense to follow Stinging Nettle with Plantain, as this is the perfect remedy should you find yourself stung!  Plantain leaves can be crushed and the juice rubbed right  on the sting to pain relief.  You can also make a simple tincture by filling a jar with the chopped leaves and then add brandy or vodka until the jar is full.  Leave for 6 weeks or longer and then strain.  The resulting tincture will work wonders on any bites or stings you many collect on your summer adventures.

3 Wildcrafted Herbs for Summer

Red Clover

This familiar and attractive ‘weed’ can be found in many a lawn or border.  Instead of getting rid of it we should be collecting it!  This is a really fun one to collect with the children, get them to gently snip off the purple flower heads and then dry them in a single layer in a dry place, out of direct sunlight.  Both fresh and dry flowers make a wonderful, uplifting tea that is particularly soothing for women.   If you have swollen feet, pop clover tea in a footbath and relish it’s calming power.  It nourishes and much as it calms and couldn’t look prettier in a jar in the pantry.
Once you introduce wild plants to your children, you’ll be amazed at how each outing turns into a learning experience.  You are also teaching your children that nature is their ally and helping them become their own healers too.  So before you mow your lawn this summer just double check, you may want to collect your medicine first!

All Natural Fizzy Bath Bombs

By Mariah Bruehl,

All Natural Fizzy Bath Bombs

It’s mid-February and there is something in the air, something floating like tiny wisps through the heart shaped ether. That’s right, it’s snow. Well it is where we live anyway. Snow, snow and a bit more snow. So it’s appropriate that this month, the month in which love is celebrated in all it’s shocking pink, chocolate flavored glory, that we take a little time to show one another some real love and care.

Where we are, in Eastern Canada, winter is long and can feel a bit grueling. By February the novelty of the snow and cold has worn off and we are all longing for spring, but spring is a little way off yet. But that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge a little and find ways to feel warm and cozy in the mean time. It’s a great time for candle lit baths, snuggles by the fire and time to give our dried out skin a little extra love.

My two farm boys love nothing more that a good soak in the bath, so this seemed like a great time to add a little extra fun with some heart shaped fizzy bath bombs. Of course I want their bath to be cozy and good for them, so these are made with natural ingredients that will help keep their skin from drying out after snowy adventures outside. I made my fizzies with chamomile tea, to help battle colds and aid relaxation; you could use peppermint tea, lavender or just plain water, all should work well.

The ingredients are all items you may well have in your pantry, and any mold that you happen to have will work too. The only special item is citric acid, but that is easily found at home brew stores or your local Bulk Barn. If you feel like theming your bath fizzles, you can add your favorite essential oil to the mix. Personally I prefer to add the oils neat to the bath for a maximum hit of goodness, do what works best for you.

All Natural Fizzy Bath Bombs

Chamomile Bath Fizzies

You will need:

  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup of citric acid
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • 2 table spoons of Epsom Salts
  • 2 1/2 table spoons of Coconut Oil
  • 3 Table spoons of cold chamomile tea (you could use a different tea, witch hazel or just plain water)
  • Up to 10 drops of essential oils such as lavender, chamomile or geranium. All of these oils are suitable for children.
  • 1-2 drops of food coloring (optional), I used 1 drop of red to get a pale pink color.

If you have a mixer this is ideal, if not use a wooden spoon or whisk to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add your oil. The mixture should become crumbly, make sure the oil is evenly distributed.

Next add the liquid, mix slowly and carefully. There will be a little bit of a fizz on contact but if you keep the mixture moving it should be minimal and the moisture will be absorbed quickly. The mixture will take on the texture of damp sand, once this happens stop adding liquid.

Press your sand like mixture into your molds, this is when you will know if you added too much moisture! If the mixture begins to fluff up it won’t set, my original batch was too wet and did just this. Luckily you can still add it to the bath and enjoy.

All Natural Fizzy Bath Bombs

Leave the mixture in your molds overnight to dry. I used heart shaped candy molds and they worked perfectly. You don’t need to coat them with anything, once they are dry they will pop straight out.

These fizzies are perfect to gift to friends or simply to use yourselves, adding a little extra warmth and fun to a cozy, winter bath time.

Our Year with Together Counts

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Learning: Well Being

We all want our children to make healthy choices when it comes to taking care of themselves. I have always found that when they understand the reasons behind the choices we want them to make, they are more enthusiastic and empowered to do the right thing.

It is for this reason that I was excited about becoming a Together Counts Ambassador. Together Counts is a nationwide program inspiring active and healthy living. They have incredible resources, activities, and printables for helping to teach children about developing healthy habits.

Now that my year with Together Counts is coming to a close, I thought it would be fun to reflect on our journey…

 

Playful Learning: Energy Balance

We started out the year by learning about energy balance… Sometimes we assume that children understand the basic concepts of nutrition. Although we talk about healthy eating all the time at home, I realized that the girls didn’t have a solid grasp of the concept that the food we eat  gives us energy that we use to live active lives. This activity set the stage for understanding that the food we eat, gives us the energy we need to live fun and active lives.

The understanding of energy balance changed they way we view the energy we take in and the energy we put out on a daily basis…

Playful Learning: Teaching Blalnce

As a family we started looking for ways to make balanced choices about the foods we eat

One way to inspire children to make wholesome choices is to involve them in the process of selecting and cooking their own food. Over the last year we started spending a lot more time in the kitchen, cooking together as a family.

Here are some great doses of inspiration from the Together Counts team:

Playful Learning: Energy BalanceWe also started thinking about and exploring fun ways to get our energy out! The goal being to do something active, together as a family, everyday.

Here are some great ideas that we and other Together Counts Ambassadors came up with:

It has been a great year filled with learning, growth, balance, and most importantly, quality time together as a family!

* This post is sponsored by Together Counts. Playful Learning only works with companies  and organizations we know and love.

Making Rainbow Salad: Raising Healthy Eaters

By Mariah Bruehl,

Raising Healthy Eaters...

One of the most effective ways to inspire children to try new foods and make healthy choices is to involve them in cooking. When they make something themselves, they are more inclined to give it a try!

Here’s to happy and healthy eating!

Dig Deeper

For more great tips and activities that encourage healthy choices try our online workshop, Food For Thought!

Online Class: Food for Thought

Power of the Pickle: The Food Mood Connection

By Mariah Bruehl,

Power of the Pickle: The Food Mood Connection

We are happily preparing for the start of our Food for Thought family workshop! I thought it’d be fun to share one of my most helpful parenting tools… Pickles!

A profound insight that I’ve gained from spending time (both professionally and personally) in the company of children, is the powerful connection between diet and behavior. Over the years I have seen consistent patterns between the food children eat and their performance in school.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the food we eat is directly correlated with our mood and behavior.

As a classroom teacher, I learned very quickly that you simply cannot give a child a cupcake + candy and expect her/him to be productive or able to focus. It’s for this reason that we always had birthday celebrations at the end of the day.

This seems like a simple concept, but it has important implications for our children. We need to make sure that the food we feed them is in line with our expectations for their behavior.

I met my husband in college while he was studying nutrition. He introduced me to the macrobiotic philosophy and it changed the way I viewed my diet. While we no longer adhere to a strict macrobiotic diet, we’ve been greatly influenced by the importance of making “balanced” food choices. Yet, the type of balance I am writing about is a bit different from eating balanced meals based on the food groups (although that is important too). From the macrobiotic perspective, all foods contain either yin or yang energy.

One extreme of this continuum are foods that are very yin, such as sweet foods that contain refined sugar or sweeteners. On the other side of the spectrum, there are foods that are very yang such as meat, eggs, and salt. If you eat food from one extreme, you are likely to crave foods from the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s for this reason that hamburgers and soft drinks go so well together. The goal is to keep our food selections balanced meaning not too yin and not too yang. Below is a chart that helps to give a visual reference.

Playful Learning: Finding-Balance

*Source: The Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods To Balance Body, Mind and Moods by Kristina Turner (2002)

 

Most of you may know that while we have very clear values in our family, I am not one to create forbidden fruits (because they have backfired on me a number of times). Rather than not allowing certain foods, we encourage open dialogue about the foods we eat and how they make us feel.

We also talk about how to “balance” the food we eat when necessary. For this reason pickles have become life-savers in our family. When my oldest daughter (who is particularly sensitive to food) comes home from a birthday party where she had a lot of sweets, and starts to exhibit yin behaviors (see the food-mood connection lists below) we encourage her to grab something salty (she happens to love pickles, but olives and sauerkraut are great too) to balance out all of the sweets she ate. Like clockwork, after she has a pickle or two, she instantly starts to feel more grounded.

The Food Mood Connection

Eating foods from either extreme (see chart above) can cause mood swings and make you feel off balance. A good way to evaluate your diet and find ways to use food to even out your moods is by understanding how your food makes you feel.

Too Expanded (Yin)

Below are some symptoms you will feel if you eat too many sugary foods:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confused
  • Worried
  • Anxious
  • Overly Sensitive
  • Sad
  • Hysterical (break-downs)

Too Contracted (Yang)

Below are some symptoms you will feel if you eat too much meat, salt, etc.:

  • Aggressive
  • Frustrated
  • Stubborn
  • Angry
  • Compulsive
  • Manipulative

Interesting food for thought, huh? The goal is to bring this awareness to family conversations so that our children can start to make connections between the food they eat and how how they feel. That way they can make healthy decisions on their own, which is the ultimate goal.

Oh, and by the way… We have a great pickle recipe, here.

If you are interested in participating in our Food Food for Thought family workshop, you can learn more, here. It starts Monday!

Food for Thought

 

Healthy Snacks for Kids

By Mariah Bruehl,

Healthy Snacks for Kids

During a recent girls’ group, my daughter and her friends expressed an interest in learning some healthy snacks that they can make for themselves after school-a time that they need a nutritional pick me up. It’s easy to grab a piece of fruit and some crackers, but kids want something more exciting and they like feeling independent in the kitchen. Here are some snacks that fit the bill (tested and approved by kids):

Healthy Snacks for Kids

This snack is so simple and can be eaten right away or kept in the fridge for an easy grab-and-go snack or even breakfast. It can be made in a large batch but we prefer to make it in single serving size containers (short, wide mason jars work well). All you need are your favorite:

  • granola
  • yogurt
  • fruit (fresh or thawed blueberries, strawberries, mango, blackberries, raspberries)

Start with a layer of yogurt, then granola, then fruit.  Repeat. That’s it. Be sure to leave some space at the top to get a spoon in!

Healthy Snacks for Kids

My kids love these so much they request them for lunch. Depending on your child’s age, you could prepare a platter of toppings, or let your child do it all from start to finish.  Here are some ideas:

  • cucumber slices, of course
  • cheese slices
  • cream cheese
  • hummus
  • ham or turkey slices-add a playful twist by letting your child use a small cookie cutter to cut out fun shapes
  • tomato slices

Starting with the cucumber as the base, layer toppings in your desired order . We like adding the cheese or spread first.  If you like, keep it together with a toothpick.

Healthy Snacks for Kids

This one is a little sweeter treat and involves some wait time, but it’s worth it! Either make them a day ahead or, on a non-school day, make them a few hours before snack time. We gathered our favorite toppings and followed these directions:

  • dark chocolate chips (for melting)
  • mini chocolate or peanut butter chips (for coating)
  • nut butter
  • chopped nuts
  • granola
  • shredded coconut
  • chopped dried fruit

Don’t they look delicious?!  I hope your child enjoys these healthy DIY snacks and is inspired to try others.

 

Register Now!

Food for Thought

How to Talk to Your Children About Their Day

By Mariah Bruehl,

How to Talk with Your Children About Thier Day...

“What did you do in school today?”

Nothing.”

“How was your day?”

Fine.”

It can be a challenge to get many children to say more about their day than these common refrains.  This handy little list may help you dig a little bit deeper with your child and discover more about their time away from you.

 

How to Talk to Your Children About Their Day

 

 

  1. WAIT: At the end of a long day it can be challenging, even for an adult, to process, synthesize, and express how their day went.  Right after school many children are focused on their empty stomachs and what adventures they want to get into during their free time. However, given time many children will have more to say than just, “Nothing or fine.”  Try incorporating a discussion about your child’s day into his or her bedtime routine.  In our house we wait until we are comfortable and snuggled into bed with a good book to ask, “What was the best part of your day?”  It is amazing how ready our seven year old is to talk.
  2. BE SPECIFIC: Instead of asking your child about their whole day, which can be daunting to summarize, ask specific questions.  It may help to keep a copy of their schedule handy at home so you can ask questions such as, “What materials did you use in art class today?,” “Did your music teacher have you sing that funny song again?  How does it go?,” or “What new words did you learn in Spanish today?”
  3. REMEMBER THE SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL, AND PHYSICAL: While it is easy to focus on the academic aspects of a school day it is important to keep in mind that if your child’s social, emotional, and physical worlds are in balance then they will be more able to access the scholastic side of the school day.  You may want to occasionally ask specific questions about friendships, feelings, and play.  Some questions may be “Who did you play with a recess today?,” “What was the snack choice at school today?,” “How are the monkey bars going?  Have you been able to skip a bar yet, I know you were working on that?”
  4.  IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MAKE THEM LAUGH:  Occasionally when children are very tight lipped about their day it can help to make them laugh about it.  Make up a silly scenario such as, “I heard that in Physical Education Mr. So-and-So made you stand on your heads while singing the hokey-pokey today.”  Many children will give you an immediate, “No he didn’t!!  We played lacrosse and I shot two goals.” This cannot be used all the time, or your child will catch on, but it does work occasionally.
  5.  LISTEN: Finally, if you ask your child a question, be prepared to actively listen.  Put down anything else you might be doing and give them your undivided focus.  Ask questions only after they finish their stories, no matter how long or complicated they may be.  Your attention will demonstrate to your child how important their days, their joys, and their worries really are.

 

Praising Children: Evaluative vs. Descriptive

By Mariah Bruehl,

Praising Children...

“Good job!” “What a wonderful story!” “Your painting is beautiful!” Sound familiar? If you are like me, you have used these words to encourage children, hoping they will feel good about themselves, their work, and their efforts. Our intentions are good but what if the affect is not what we intended? What if our words leave children wondering—or even worrying—about all the times when they didn’t do a good job, or wrote a mediocre story or tore the paper when they were painting? What happens next time when we aren’t there to bestow our blessing on their work? It is not our approval, evaluation or critique of a child’s work that matters. Children need to make their own conclusions and our comments should merely help inform that self-assessment.

 

Dr. Haim Ginott (author of Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers), famously wrote about how to communicate with children. If you are not familiar with his work, you can watch video footage of him in interviews on YouTube. He is entertaining, and his deep respect for children is very apparent. One of the topics he addressed was praise. (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, continue the discussion.) While Dr. Ginott describes various subtleties in how we talk to children, the most important message is to replace evaluative praise with descriptive praise.

 

What Is Evaluative Praise?

When we judge what we see instead of describing it, we are providing evaluative praise (e.g., good, best, perfect, beautiful, great). When we attach a character trait to a child, instead of describing what they did, we are providing evaluative praise (e.g., honest, smart, generous, helpful, hardworking). According to Dr. Ginott evaluative praise creates dependence. The child looks to the person giving the praise to determine his self-worth.

 

What is Descriptive Praise?

Instead of judging what we see, we can simply describe what we see the child has done (e.g., mixed red and yellow to make orange, played a piece of music with crescendos in just the right places, wrote a story that helps the reader feel what the character is feeling). Descriptive praise is very specific and comes from thoughtful observation.   Instead of describing an action we could describe what the child might be feeling. “You hung up your jacket all by yourself, and last month you couldn’t reach the hook. You look really pleased with yourself.” Let the child evaluate his or her own actions.

Praising Children: Evaluative vs. Descriptive

 

Some More Examples

When my daughter practices her violin, it is tempting to just say, “It sounds beautiful,” but instead I really listen to her playing and I tell her I notice the way she subtly draws out just the right notes with her bow, creating a certain mood. Or when she shares her latest piece of writing, I notice her strong, unique voice in the characters she creates and the way she talks to the reader. When my 3-year-old son finishes a puzzle, I acknowledge how he feels (based on his expression): “You did that puzzle all by yourself. You must be so pleased.” When he makes up a song on his Ukulele, I notice the instrumental introduction, the way he keeps a steady beat, how he changes things up by clapping or plucking the strings instead of strumming. (His lyrics consisted mostly of bathroom words, but never mind.) You get the idea.

 

Suggestions to Make Praise More Descriptive

 

  • Be specific. Throw out the list of character traits for labeling behavior and simply describe what you observe. “You put all the trucks on the shelves where they belong. Now you’ll know right where to find them next time.”
  • Show appreciation. Name exactly what the child did and how it helps you. “Thank you for setting the table tonight. Now I have more time to read books with you.”
  • Leave out “you.” Use “I” statements or focus on the action, but not the person. “The paint spilled on the table. Here’s a towel.” Or reword the praise above: “The trucks were put back on the shelves where they belong. They will be easy to find next time.”
  • Ask more questions. Instead of praise, ask questions. “How did you make that?” “How did you decide what to paint?” “What do you like about… (the materials used or the product)?”
  • What would I say to Shakespeare? Ginott describes how adults speak differently to other adults. If we met Shakespeare we would not say, “Wow! Great job. You used your sparkle words.” We might comment on our favorite passage or marvel at his play on words.
  • Be observant. In order to change how we praise children, we need to really look and listen. It requires more time and more attention to detail.
  • Take some advice from Lilly (of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse fame) and just say, “Wow” because sometimes that’s all you can say. And beam.

 

Is it easy? No. Do my children want to hear how great they are? Of course. But as fabulous as they may be in my eye, ultimately they need to know their own worth.