How To Talk To Teens About Their Purpose In Life

By Guest Writer, Dr. Kendall Cotton Bronk; Associate Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University

“Not to brag, but I can make my teen crabby just by saying hello.”

As the parent of a pre-teen, I can relate. And judging from the sixty-three comments attached to this Facebook meme a friend posted, so too can a few other parents. Although stereotypes of rebellious, moody teens tend to be overdrawn, most would agree that it can be challenging to talk to teens, especially about the important stuff. Like their purpose in life.

What do your teens want out of life? What do they hope to accomplish? How do they want to leave their mark? Why?

Broaching these kinds of topics can be tricky. As parents, we want to be encouraging but not pushy, supportive but not manipulative. It can be difficult to walk this fine line. And yet, it’s important to have these kinds of conversations.

Amorphous, philosophical topics, like purpose, are not typically the focus of psychological study, but in the past decade and a half, research on this topic has exploded. From this work at least two clear findings have emerged. First, we’ve learned that leading a life of purpose is beneficial in more ways than one. Purpose is associated with physical health, including better sleep, less chronic pain, and longer living, and with psychological health, including hope, happiness, and life satisfaction. The second thing we’ve learned is that the experience is rare. Only about 1 in 5 high schoolers and 1 in 3 college-aged youth reports leading a life of purpose.

Taking these findings together – that leading a life of purpose is a beneficial but rare experience – members of my Adolescent Moral Development lab and I began to explore ways of fostering purpose among young people. In the process, we learned a lot about how young people identify meaningful, long-term goals that allow them to contribute to the broader world. Below I outline some strategies and conversation starters parents can use to start a discussion with their teens about their purpose in life.

Model purpose.
Have you ever told your teen or twenty-something what gives your life purpose? Have you tried explaining how raising children fills your life with meaning, or how doing a job that positively influences the lives of others gives your life direction? Rarely do we share the things that give our own lives purpose, but doing so is critical. Not only does it help introduce adolescents to the language of purpose, but it can also help them begin to think about the things that give their own lives purpose.

Focus on young people’s strengths and values.
Help young people identify their strengths and consider the values that are most central to them. Purpose emerges when young people apply their strengths to affect personally meaningful changes in the broader world. For example, a young person who cares about the environment and is equally a good writer may find purpose in promoting conservation through journalism.

Foster gratitude.
It may seem counter-intuitive to foster purpose by cultivating a grateful mindset, but it works. Helping young people reflect on the blessings and the people who have blessed them naturally inclines young people to consider how they want to give back. At dinner each night, ask each family member to share at least three things from their day for which they’re grateful. Or, use holidays as a way of starting an on-going conversation about gratitude.

Encourage youth to reach out to friends and family members.
Young people may not know what their purpose is, but the adults in their lives may have a pretty good idea. Encourage your teens to send emails to or strike up a conversation with at least five adults who know them well, asking: (1) What do you think I’m particularly good at? What are my greatest strengths? (2) What do you think I really enjoy doing? When do you think I’m most engaged? (3) How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world? You can help by encouraging the recipients of these emails to respond. They don’t need to spend more than five minutes doing so; what you want is their gut reactions. The responses youth receive can be very eye-opening. They’re likely to learn quite a bit about their purpose when they hear what others think it might be.

Focus on the far-horizon.
All too often our conversations with adolescents focus on the here and now. Did you finish your homework? Which colleges are you applying to? Are you ready for your physics test? Instead, ask adolescents questions that focus on the bigger picture. Ask youth to imagine if things have gone as well as they could have hoped, and now they’re 40-years-of-age, what will they be doing? Who will be in their life? What will be important to them? Why? This long-term thinking helps youth focus on what it is they want out of life. And don’t forget the whys! Purposes often appear in the whys!

In addition to trying these empirically-based strategies for cultivating purpose in the lives of young people, encourage your high schooler to participate in The Purpose Challenge (, where they can complete a brief set of online tools designed to help them discover their purpose, write a short purpose-inspired college essay, and submit that essay for a chance to win a college scholarship. Entries for the college scholarship are due February 1st so check out the site and learn more soon!

Dr. Kendall Cotton Bronk is an associate professor of psychology at the Claremont Graduate University in the Division of Behavioral & Social Sciences, where she studies the things that give young people’s lives purpose. Dr. Bronk teamed up with the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and social impact firm ProSocial to translate research on purpose into an online toolkit called The Purpose Challenge, which youth can use to explore their own purpose in life.


Quiet Winter Reflection

After the hub-bub of the holidays, I find myself craving quiet, the central gift of wintertime. Much of the natural world is in hibernation and the snow muffles the sounds of the city holding them at bay. As I put away holiday decorations and purge old items that can find a better home elsewhere rather than collecting dust in my own, I am clearing my mind as well. I know if I give into this desire for quiet I’ll be rewarded over time with clarity and focus and a sense of purpose in my family and work life. And so, I walk outside and breathe deeply the frigid air. And I listen to whatever it is I might hear. I ask big questions and I allow them to linger in me for awhile without skipping quickly to the neat answers others might approve of. No, I listen and wait for the answers that I know will ring true.

Here are some of those questions that I ask. My hope in sharing these is that you’ll find your quiet winter too and live the questions for a time listening for authenticity before diving into your new year with answers.

  • What gives me a sense of meaning and purpose?
  • What hopes and dreams do I have for myself?
  • How can I maintain or regain my sense of calm as the storm of responsibilities – family and work – rain down?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my child?
  • How do I need to align my actions to meet those hopes for my child? What do I need to work on in small, simple, daily kinds of ways?
  • What if my son/daughter were moving out next year? What values would I want him know and hold dear too? How would I do things differently this year to help him learn those values?
  • What beliefs or perceptions can I let go of that may be holding me back from being my best self?
  • How can I show gratitude for my loved ones particularly when life gets busy?
  • How can I be certain that my family members know that I love them unconditionally?

These are just a few of the questions I am holding onto and allowing to stir in my head these winter days. May you too be enriched by your questions.
Happy new year!

The Best of 2017 from Confident Parents, Confident Kids

In 2017, the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ community continued to grow in followers and collaborators and celebrated five years. Thank you for your continued participation in this critical dialogue on how we can promote essential life skills in our children! In case you missed any, here are the most popular articles from the past year!

  1. A Storied Childhood; The Impact of Stories on Children’s Social and Emotional Development

This article continues to be the most popular of all published. Here’s how it begins…

Oh, the places you’ll go! The worlds you will visit! The friends you will know! – Dr. Seuss

“What are you guys up to?” I say to the three six-year-old friends in my living room. “We’re sharing our books!” one says with an “Isn’t it obvious?” tone. Reading is a top priority in the early elementary school years with some states enforcing a reading guarantee (“All kids will read with proficiency by the third grade.”). And so at times it feels, the pressure is on. “Mama, I feel with my whole body that I won’t learn to read,” E said to me at age five. Yet, we have read together since the days when he was swimming in amniotic fluid. “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” was our favorite. We have books in every room of the house. We’ve read several books together every day of his life. But he has a mounting anxiety around learning to read. Perhaps because it is so much a part of our lives, he feels the importance of reading. But also, I suspect that school is pushing hard to make sure he hurries his learning pace. He’s not alone. A worried mother recently confided in me, “I’ve had my son going to a tutor all summer because I’m told he has to read by the time he starts first grade!” Yes, learning to read is certainly important but how children learn to read is just as important. Read the full article.

2.Kindergarten Exhaustion

How Can You Help Your Five-Year-Old during the Major Adjustment to All-Day Kindergarten?

“We have to go back every day?!” exclaims five-year-old Simon incredulously in the first week of kindergarten. I was reminded of when the nurse told me “only 20 more minutes of pushing and the baby should be out,” during drugless labor. It felt like a lifetime and I had no clue how I would survive a minute longer more or less 20 minutes! This is how a typical kindergartner feels. They are nervous and scared about the many new faces, places, and expectations. They are sad missing play-time at home with you and a much shorter day with far fewer responsibilities. They feel guilty because they know they should be “big” and act “big” but deep inside, they want to snuggle back under the covers. Read the full article.

3. Parents as Servant Leaders

“It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service.”
– Albert Einstein

Most leaders acquire their power from the choice of their social group to elevate individuals to that level. However, parents, by the very nature of our roles, serve in a leadership position while we raise our children. A servant leader realizes that his or her ability to significantly influence others and achieve any vision comes from serving others. Understanding the qualities of a successful leader – that of a servant leader – can assist any parent in further refining his or her values and skills to better perform her role. Research on power demonstrates that the skills required to rise to leadership are empathy and social skills.1 However, interestingly, those are the very skills that become the most challenging to leaders once they have acquired power. So when we are parenting, we may have a greater challenge than in other roles with our ability to be empathetic and to demonstrate social intelligence. Read the full article.

4. Raising Kids Who Can Cope with Tough Times by Guest Writer and Expert, Janine Halloran

When you think of the word childhood, what comes to mind?

Perhaps you think of carefree times, playing games and giggles, stomping in puddles, scribbling crayons, or running on a playground.

But things aren’t always sunny and perfect in childhood. There are times when challenging events happen in a child’s life. Sometimes these events are small, like a favorite toy breaking, or having an argument with a friend. But sometimes they can be much bigger events, like a loved one dying or parents getting divorced.

As parents, we want to try to protect them from these experiences, and while it’s tempting to do, that wouldn’t be helpful. The truth is that kids will feel sad. Kids will feel frustrated. Kids will feel stressed. Kids will get mad. That’s part of life. Life isn’t always going to be perfect and fun all the time –  there will be storms that happen. Read the full article.

5. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention or Punishment

Ideas for Parents and Educators

“Are you okay, E?” I overheard a concerned classmate ask my son as he walked out of the school building yesterday at pick up time. “I’m okay.” he assured the friend. In my head, I was saying “Uh-oh!” bracing myself for the unknown challenge ahead. I ditched my errand-running plans and headed straight to the ice cream store to get provisions for our conversation hoping to channel the clarity of focus that only ice cream can bring. He relayed the story calmly. “Our class was coming back to our room from gym. Sarah (that’s what we’ll call her) was trying to push her way to the front. I was at the beginning of the line and she grabbed my arm and scraped her fingernails down it.” He extended his forearm and revealed two lines of broken skin, red and raw, from his elbow down to his wrist. After washing and treating it, I asked how he had responded and then, how the school had responded. E had said back to Sarah after the scratch “I have to tell the teacher.” And he did. “We were both sent to the principal’s office.” he said. Read the full article.

And A New Book!

Also in 2017, Jennifer Miller, author of CPCK, contributed to the book, Building Powerful Learning Environments from Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas. In both roles – as a parent and as an educator – it can be difficult to understand why there are not stronger partnerships between those three entities – families, schools and communities – who all impact the same children’s lives and care deeply about their learning. In theory, it sounds right. We should work together, communicate with one another and coordinate for a more powerful impact on the development of our children. But the reality of making that happen is quite different. “Feeling voiceless and powerless is likely to resonate with many parents who tried to advocate for their children in schools,” writes Arina Bokas. And for educators, we are often told what we have to do without consideration for our own professional expertise and wisdom. Teachers and administrators can shy away from parents because of accusations and attacks they’ve received in the past. And frequently, community members are unclear whether or not they are welcome in schools and if they are, what roles they can play. This book offers plenty of practical wisdom to help create more trusting, connected partnerships. Check out this excellent book! 

What topics do you want to explore in the coming year? Please comment and let me know!

Happy new year!

Family New Year’s Resolution – The Fighting Fair Family Pledge

What if, this new year, you introduced a family new year’s resolution – to agree to fight fairly?

Fighting is inevitable in families. It does not represent weakness but only reality. Be sure to read through to the end of this article to find the easy-to-print and use “Fighting Fair Family Pledge”!

Throughout childhood, kids are beginning to understand how to disagree and struggle with another person’s perspectives. They may be more impulsive and lash out or run away or even dig in their “heels” deepening the power struggle. I’ve heard many Moms’ laments over their siblings fighting repeatedly over the same issues at the same time of day when patience is low and kids are tired and hungry for dinner. So how can you deal with your children’s conflicts?

Take a look at your own arguments. Kids are learning directly from observing how we handle conflicts with our partners. Do you shout or name call or run away? Do you lash out with passive aggressive comments? Whether we like it or not, our kids are keen observers of how we work through our arguments. Their sense of security is shaken, whether they are a toddler or a teenager when they witness their parents fighting. So they are eager to see how and whether we are able to resolve our problems and move toward a closer relationship.

John Gottman, who has done extensive research on marriage, found that couples who stayed together versus those who divorced did not fight less. In fact, they fought just as often. But there were some keys to how they fought fairly. He writes, “A lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”1 In addition, they balanced their negativity with positivity. There was, in fact, a magical amount of five positive interactions to one negative interaction, called the Gottman Ratio, that allowed for long-term, sustainable relationships. And it’s true with our parent-child and sibling relationships as well. Consider at the end of a particularly difficult day with your kids, “Did they have five positive interactions with you to counteract the one challenging one?”

Studies have been conducted on how kids’ developing brains are impacted by parents’ conflicts. Kids who lived in households with regular fighting experienced a stress level others who lived in more peaceful households did not. Over time, that stress compromised their brain development leading to impairments in learning and memory. But kids who lived in households in which parents argued but genuinely resolved the arguments (kids were aware if parents faked a resolution.) were actually happier than before they experienced the argument, claims E. Mark Cummings, senior researcher at Notre Dame University. He writes

It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time. 2

If the quality of the fighting and subsequent interactions is critical in sustaining a healthy marital relationship, then it’s conceivable that it is also critical for sustaining positive friend and family relationships. And since kids learn directly from the modeling of their parents’ arguments, it’s worth examining how you fight with one another.

There are ways of fighting that are unfair and those are important to discuss as a family. In addition to becoming clear about words, intentions, and actions that are destructive to relationships, I’ve also listed simple ways to teach children alternatives so that not only do they understand what not to do but what TO do.

Agree with family members not to use:

Though it can be tempting to criticize another (and at times, it may seem harmless), those words constitute an attack on the person you love. Focus on the problem at hand, the struggle, not the quality or character of the person with whom you are fighting. Criticism of another can remain in the heart and mind of the recipient and whittle away at the trust in a relationship.

Teaching your kids.
When my child is mad at another, I typically say “We are all learning. Your friend is learning too.” Focus on the problem, not on the person. He may not be getting his needs met. We may not be able to understand why he is doing what is making us mad but we can understand that there’s a reason for it. Reframe how you discuss the problem. Say “What actions/choices didn’t you like?” versus “What did he do wrong?”

2. Contempt.
Contempt is another way of showing disdain for another person. It may involve name-calling, hostile humor or sarcasm, dismissive or baiting body language or mockery. None of these are fighting fair. Not only are these forms of character attacks but they also have the implicit intention to harm the other’s feelings.

Broken Heart by Jennifer Miller
Teach your kids about the destructiveness of name-calling by using the broken heart example.

Teaching your kids.
It’s never okay to name-call no matter how mad you are or think the other deserves it. You might ask, “If you held up a mirror and that body language or those words came back to address you, how would you feel?” One way we taught kids about hurting other’s feelings in schools was by the broken heart example. Draw a simple heart on a piece of paper. Now have the child call the paper disparaging names. Tear the paper each time he calls it a name. When finished, work together to tape the paper back together. Though you can reassemble the heart, it becomes permanently damaged. Children need to understand their words can have that same impact. Don’t allow contempt to pass between siblings. Tell them to go cool off first. Then, come back and you can help kids talk to one another in constructive ways.

3. Defensiveness.
Being on the defensive is a slippery slope that sinks further down into the argumentative mire. It does not help anyone work toward a resolution. It’s easy to become defensive when the other is placing blame. So make a rule in your household. Avoid words like “always” and “never” in conflicts. First of all, it can’t be true that someone is always one way or never another. And second, it leads to further escalation of the conflict and often to hurt feelings. The best way to avoid defensiveness is by owning your own role in the problem, not pointing the finger and blaming other (watch for starting statements with “You…”), and hoping (though there’s no forcing it) others will accept their roles.

Teaching your kids.
“Always” and “never” are not permitted in arguments in our household. If they are used, it’s time to cool down and see what other words could be used. Also, teach your kids to say how they played a role in the situation first. Use I statements such as, “I feel mad when you grab my toy because I was playing with it.” Owning your role in problem takes courage. So teach them how to take responsibility in the most challenging of circumstances by practicing simple words they can use.

4. Stonewalling.
This takes place when a person refuses to listen, shuts down the argument or gives the silent treatment such as Jonathan closing his ears and singing. Make no mistake about this technique. It is not peacemaking. Far from it, this method of fighting is aggressive and hurtful to the person on the receiving end.

Teaching your kids.
Don’t allow kids to confuse time to cool down with stonewalling. There is a significant emotional difference. In the first, a person leaves upset and returns calmer and ready for constructive dialogue. In the latter, a person leaves upset and the upset escalates with both conflict participants. Silent treatment or shutting down another person only leads to more problems, hurt and upset. When kids are calmer, encourage them to come back together to work it out. If they struggle with talking, have them write to one another. Communication between the two is critical to work through their problem. For more on facilitating problem-solving between kids in conflict, check out “Working It Out.”

Establishing some guidelines for fighting fair for all family members can ensure that you are ready when the inevitable problems arise.

Guidelines for Fighting Fair

Instead, your family can agree to…

Get proactive about how you are going to calm down. What do you do when you feel the heat rising in your face from anger and frustration? Develop your own plan for calming down in advance of troubles. And have the discussion with your family. Use the Family Emotional Safety Plan as a simple guide for that discussion. Also, are there times of the day when siblings tend to fight over and again? If so, proactively institute a quiet time or “brain break” as schools who use mindfulness practices call it. A brain break involves simply sitting down and focusing on breathing to regain calm. It can become a powerful household tool if parents use and model it too.

Trust that the other person has good intentions. If we begin from a place of blaming and accusation, defensive walls go up on both sides. In order to keep those emotional walls from being erected, we need to trust that there is a good reason behind the other’s arguments.

Start with empathy. When a conflict arises, training yourself to think about the thoughts and feelings of the other involved helps us communicate with compassion and fairness. It can be difficult to focus on empathy when we are in our own heads reinforcing our perspectives and creating new arguments to support our main points. But after a focus on calming down, we are more capable of doing this. You might begin with, “I think you are feeling worry and frustration and you want me to change my actions so that you don’t feel that way anymore. Is that correct?”

Take responsibility for your role only. Ask “What’s my role in this problem?” and “How can I articulate my role fairly?” You may say “I admit that I didn’t pick up your library book today but I am feeling frustrated because I had a good reason why I did not.” This also helps avoid the blame game. When you take responsibility for your own role in the situation, the other is more likely to take responsibility for his role as well.

Seek understanding. Often we cannot move on from our conflicts because we feel so sorely misunderstood. And at times, though it can be uncomfortable, we miss the chance to gain understanding by not sharing our feelings, thinking it will leave us vulnerable. In fact, it is in the sharing of our feelings that we begin to connect more deeply on the core problem and offer a chance to resolve it constructively. In order to resolve the issue, use “I” message language. “I feel frustrated and mad when you don’t tell me you are coming home late because I’ve worked hard on a family dinner.” And make sure you offer to turn the tables to gain an understanding of your partner’s perspectives.

Work together on an agreement. No agreement is going to work if needs – physical or emotional – are not met. So before finding solutions ask “What needs have to be met on both sides?” Then with those needs in mind, discuss ways you might move forward and resolve the problem.

End with love. This is typically not a possible way to close a conflict if the problem is still there, not truly resolved. But if you’ve heard each other’s feelings and thoughts, worked to understand one another and tried to resolve the problem fairly, then ending with an expression of your love and care is not only possible, it’s likely.

If we know that the way we fight – what we say, how we say it and what we do – can either deepen our intimacy and strengthen our bonds or create divisions and break down trust, then it’s worth becoming clear about and agreeing upon our boundaries. Introduce this to your family while you are on winter break or during a family dinner. Make this commitment to one another and keep it handy to remind of your agreements throughout the year when challenges arise.

Here is the pdf version of the Fighting Fairly Pledge to print and use! 

Conflicts are the most rigorous tests of our relationships. Reflect with your partner on your own methods of arguing so that you can ensure you are modeling the behaviors you want your kids to learn. And give your children ample practice with calming down and then communicating with each other in respectful and constructive ways so that when they are on their own in the world, they will carry those critical problem-solving skills with them. If you do, you will feel confident that your kids will be prepared to pursue healthy, sustainable relationships. You’ll be starting 2018 with an expressed demonstration of learning and growing in love together. From my family to yours, happy new year!


1. Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1994). What makes marriage work? It’s how you resolve conflict that matters most. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 4/27/16.


New Year’s Routine Reboot

The Start of the Year Offers the Ideal Chance to Create Smoother Bedtime and Morning Routines at Any Age…

E, now ten-years-old, has a full two and a half week break over the holidays. And yes, we’ll do lots of visiting with friends and family. Sure, we are planning multiple entertaining outings. But there’s also an opportunity we’ll take advantage of while we have the luxury of time to prepare for the year ahead.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the book Better Than Before, suggests that any major changes in life can be supported and successfully sustained by initiating them at a turning point or natural time of transition. 1 Because we feel we are in a cycle of change anyway, adding another change to it feels more in alignment with our lives.

As we tried to get E ready for a playdate this morning, we reflected on how it was chaotic, awkward, and driven by us, the parents despite the fact that we’ve worked hard to instill a sense of responsibility in our child. We know he’s well-rehearsed in all of the tasks he needs to accomplish to get out of the door. Yet, we found ourselves nagging. And we know it’s not necessary. Time to revisit our routines! And the new year presents a perfect opportunity to do so.

The holiday freedom can throw us off of our game as we go to bed later and get up later. Then, that first week back from holiday break can typically be a tough one — getting up and out of bed on time further complicated by the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. We begin the new year with a host of new hopes, desires and plans. But getting back into our routines may create unnecessary aggravation, certainly not setting us up to achieve those hopes, if we are not proactive about them.

Making adjustments to our winter routines just makes sense. Harsh weather adds so much to our typical mornings that if we don’t accommodate those additions, we will end up consistently stressed and our kids will too. And the resulting negative mood can trickle down into our work and school days. But there’s good news from research done on self-control. Apparently, we have the greatest capacity for self-control in the morning when we are fresh and rested. As the day wears on, our self-control can experience fatigue like a muscle. 2 The implication is that if we have set ourselves and our kids up for success by getting to bed on time in the evening and getting up on time in the morning, then we can draw upon our refreshed self-control to proceed calmly and with patience while our child struggles to get on his boots. Why not plan for success and make some small adjustments with your kids to help each member contribute to making the morning go smoothly?

Make a Plan Together. You can use a poster board that you’ll post nearby to refer to during your routines. Or you can use a small white board so that you can easily erase marks and start over. Pick a time to discuss and work on your plan when you have no time pressures. Involve your child in the creation. For younger children, (toddler through first grade) create a simple, illustrated plan and for older children (school age and up), create a checklist. You may want to focus on “things we need to do” to get out of the door on time.

For younger children… Creating a plan together can be simple and powerful. You might ask, “what do we do first when we begin our bedtime routine?” Write down in as simple terms as possible and if your child can write it herself, that’s preferred. Have her illustrate the concepts. The more she can contribute, the more ownership she will have over the plan.

For older children… It seems human nature that checking items off a list offers satisfaction. And research now supports that when there is added complexity in any situation, using a checklist can offer a simple organizer to ensure all issues are addressed. 3 Give your kids the opportunity to check off their list. “Today’s special class is library. What do you need to put into your backpack?” you might prompt. “Books, check!” replies your highly responsible child! The checklist can help your child get involved in making sure everything is ready for the day.

Plans offer practice in goal setting and problem-solving as they think through possible solutions to typical challenges that occur. And in the implementation of the plan, children are able to exercise their self-management and responsible decision-making skills as they set about following through on their plans.

Organize. Take time during your break or after school to organize your winter wear and school project materials. It seems at the same time the wet, snowy outdoor clothing is piling, there is an influx of historical dioramas and science poster boards. Where are the repositories for completed academic work that were brought home? Where do you keep academic materials that have to travel back and forth to school? Be certain there is an assigned container, bin or binder that your child can regularly use. And then, how do you deal with all of the extra winter wear? Where do wet scarves, gloves and hats go? Those are the buggers that tend to run and hide at the last minute before everyone needs to leave. And what about at bedtime? Would it help to select and lay out clothing for the next day during your bedtime routine? Create a solution together. The more you can involve your child in that solution (perhaps she draws a sign for a bin? perhaps the bin is her favorite color?), the more ownership she will take over keeping track of those articles.

Evaluate Time and Adjust. It’s a simple fact that if you have added winter clothing and academic projects to your morning routine, you should be allotting more time than when the weather was pleasant. Never plan for the exact amount of time it takes for your routine to go smoothly. How often does that work out? Instead plan extra time for problems so that when they occur (Tommy has a meltdown about wearing new pants.), you won’t panic because you don’t have the time for a problem. Delays still may occur on occasion. But with a little padding, you will possess that additional calm to get through most mornings.

Move your muscles together. During the hibernation months, children are often seated in a classroom in school all day and return home to more schoolwork. Recess may be indoors and involve board games instead of the typical outdoor running around that occurs during nicer weather. Movement may be significantly limited particularly compared to the warmer months. That movement, though, helps children fall asleep faster at night and get their required rest. So consider finding an opportunity to move after dinner each night. Can you do a chase game safely in your basement? Can you try out family yoga together? How about a dance party? It could be as simple as turning on some upbeat music. Create chances to move so that you do not have to do all of your wiggle expelling at the moment it’s time to go to sleep.

Do a Dry Run. Instead of playing your favorite board game, host a game of “Morning” or “Bedtime Routine.” Once may be enough to allow you and your kids to practice and provide a significant memory from which to draw. Be certain to make it enjoyable. With a doughnut in hand (this is my personal version of making it enjoyable :), go through each of the steps of the morning with your checklist. Or if bedtime is particularly challenging, do this with bedtime. You could have your child teach their favorite bear their routine in the process. Set a timer to see how quickly you can get through each step. Allow your kids to tell you what’s next. When you come upon typical morning or bedtime struggles, stop to brainstorm. “How can I help you with this? What could make this easier so we can beat our time?”

Prepare the Night Before. Instead of trying to get ready for the next day on your own after the kids have gone to bed and you’re exhausted, involve your kids in getting ready. In the evening, set aside time. Use your checklist to call out items that need to be in backpacks. Lay out clothing. If there’s any new clothing, this would be the time to try it on so there are no morning surprises.

Have Back Ups. For school supplies, medications and winter wear including snow and rain gear, try and have inexpensive back-ups easily on hand. Gloves get lost. And the realization typically occurs when your foot is halfway out of the door. Make it easier on all involved and have a second pair.

Particularly if you have kindergarten-age children or younger, going over the full morning and bedtime routines will set you up for later success. You will have involved your children and taught and reinforced those behaviors you want to see each morning at a time when they are still figuring out the rules of school.

For older children, they know the gig well enough to resist it! And if we’ve already gotten into a pattern of nagging, children expect and rely on that nagging to get moving. They will tend to wait until the tenth nag or the volume is raised before really moving at a pace that will get them out of the door. That’s the routine they’ve fallen into. So creating a plan or checklist together involves them in problem-solving. They certainly don’t enjoy being nagged. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to figure out how evenings and mornings can move successfully with each family member taking responsibility for his or her roles and tasks.

Children will be more successful in school and have a greater sense of well-being on a daily basis if they have a consistent bedtime routine that assures they get the required sleep for their age at night. For ages and sleep requirements, check out this chart from the National Sleep Foundation. Also, winter mornings don’t have to begin with stress. With some teamwork and a little planning, they can go smoothly once more. And you can stop nagging and yelling and feeling guilty. It’s worth a little extra effort to not start your day on a negative note. I treasure the mornings when my son gets out of the car at school and I feel like we’ve both had a positive start. And that is my wish for you for this new year! That you are able to get your children to bed on time so that you have some time of your own and that most of your mornings prepare each family member to start the day feeling calm and ready.

For more on these topics, check out:

A Smooth Morning Routine (video short)

Monkey Mind at Bedtime, Reflecting on Children’s Thinking

The Opportunity of Bedtime, Part One

The Opportunity of Bedtime, Part Two — Troubleshooting Bedtime Challenges


1.Rubin, Gretchen. (2015). Better Than Before; What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less and Generally Build a Happier Life. NY: Broadway Books.

2. Hagger, M.S., Wood, C., Stiff, C. & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. ( 2010). Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis. National Institute of Education, Singapore. In Press, Psychological Bulletin.

3. Gawande, A. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto; How to Get Things Right. NY: Picador.



Our Darkest Day Brings Gratitude for Light

Learning about the Winter Solstice…

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

December 21, the shortest day of the year, will mark the turning from dark to an increase in sunlight. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the coldest time of year and in the Southern, it marks the Summer Solstice. The traditions that recognize this passage seem to touch numerous cultures around the world and date back to ancient times in which the Mayan Indians, ancient Romans, Scandinavians and others celebrated. Years ago, my own neighborhood friends would gather on this day, say some words of gratefulness for the gift of light in our lives, and each person would contribute a stick or evergreen branch to the fire. This tradition has remained in my memory as one of the most sacred I have attended. All of the major world holidays involve an appreciation for light in the darkness as a previous article explored including Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa. As we approach this passing of dark to light, I reflect on the themes cultures throughout the world have recognized, appreciate our commonalities and consider how we can learn from their wisdom and reinforce those themes in our own family.

So tonight during our typical family dinner, I will light a candle and talk with my family about the following themes. I’ve included questions that we will ask and offer them to you as well to consider around your own family dinner table.

Theme: Connection

Our connection to one another during this time is one of the most valuable. Ironically savoring our moments with our loved ones can get buried under a mound of anxiety, expectations, and commitments. When it comes to focusing on our appreciation for one another during this passage from dark to light, we can be made aware, if we stop long enough to notice, that we are more alike than different. Numerous religions, nations, indigenous cultures and popular cultures celebrate light with a wide variety of rituals and traditions. We can enter into our own celebrations, whatever our traditions may be, with the awareness that we are inter-connected and inter-dependent with one another and our environment. We can begin to explore the many other ways we are connected to one another regardless of how different we feel or seem at times.

Questions for our Family Dinner: What are ways that we are connected to people from places far from us in the world? What are the ways we are connected to people who are different from us or challenge us in our own community? If there have been disagreements among family and friends, how do we extend ourselves to connect to those individuals?

Theme: Relationship of Light and Dark

Darkness has long been a symbol for emotional turmoil and violence in the world. The darkness seems to hold fear and danger but with the light of day, the perspective changes dramatically to one of hope and possibility. Moving from short, gray days to lighter, brighter days can help remind us that there is always another chance to make a candle of light 001better decision. There’s always an opportunity to be who we really aspire to be. Our actions can reflect our deepest values.

Questions for our Family Dinner: Is there sadness, fear, disappointment or other darkness you want to leave behind? How can you acknowledge the darkness? And how can you then let it go and begin again?

Theme: Gratitude for the Natural World

It is humbling to step back and watch the changing of the seasons unfold. In ancient times, people feared that the lack of light would continue. They worried that if they did not revere the Sun God, “he” may move further away from their days. Take this moment in time to appreciate the sun, the moon, the trees, the birds and all of the natural world around us that profoundly influences all of our lives.

Questions for our Family Dinner: What aspects of nature influence you regularly? What do you appreciate about the environment you encounter each day? What are your favorite activities to do in the sunshine? What are your favorite activities when it’s dark? How do you feel differently on this darkest day of the year?

Theme: Rebirth, Purification, and Forgiveness

In ancient Rome during the solstice, wars stopped, grudges were forgiven and slaves traded places with their masters. Today, the theme of rebirth and forgiveness is carried out in a diverse range of religious and cultural practices. The burning of wood to create light in the darkness also symbolizes that we can let go of old wounds or poor choices and begin again. For children, it’s a critical lesson to learn that one choice does not determine who they are. There is always the light of a new day to offer a chance for forgiving the old and creating the new.

Question for our Family Dinner: Are there hurts that you are holding onto from the past? How can you heal and move on? Have you disappointed yourself? With the burning of a candle, can you imagine those disappointments burning into the ash, forgiven, and offering you a new chance?

Theme: Hope

Even in cultures in which they feared the sun may not appear again, they held hope. Their rituals centered around offering up gratitude so that the light may return. The darkness offers us an opportunity to invest in hope for the light, in hope for the coming year.

Questions for our Family Dinner: Where do we most need hope in our lives? How can we cultivate hope? How can we – as individuals and as a family – show hope through our actions?

There is a silent calm that comes over me when I light a candle or watch the flames rise in our fireplace. That calm gives me the space to reflect on the meaning of this time of year and connects me to the many individuals and cultures today and of generations past that have recognized this passage. May you find ways to appreciate and focus on the people most important to you during this emergence from dark to light. And simultaneously, may we appreciate our common ground and connection to people around the world, past and present, who require light for life.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper retrieved on 12-17-14 from

Originally posted on December 14, 2014.

On Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global… “Deck the Halls with Mental Well-Being”

If you missed it when published on this site, check out “Deck the Halls with Mental Well-Being” on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global! Here’s how it begins…

Managing Our Own Stress This Season Might Be the Greatest Gift of All

My son burst into tears as his friends waited at our door to play. He had fallen up our stairs and gashed his shin on the metal rims of the hall steps. I plopped on the floor to comfort him and as he turned to me, he said, “Mom, you told me to hurry.” And why? Why did he need to hurry? In my mind, I had a million tasks to accomplish including facilitating his tasks – homework, dinner and holiday preparations. I had thought it could be good for him to get outside and run around with his pals for a short time. But I was pressuring him to hurry up and why? “Quick, go examine bugs under the rocks?!” The pointlessness of my urging dawned on me. As he ran out and the door shut, I noticed the quiet in our house and really stopped for the first time that day. What was I doing? Read the full article on Thrive Global.

A Family Primer on World Holidays…

Give the Gift of Global Awareness this Holiday Season

Because of the numerous holidays celebrated through the fall and winter months, it is an ideal time to discuss how people celebrate around the world – both the uniqueness of traditions and also the many commonalities. I was struck by the number of similar themes and symbols when I did the research for the following world holiday facts. Most notably, the major holidays celebrate light in the darkness, show gratitude for food, family, and life and pause for reflection or prayer. I was so enriched by learning about the beautiful traditions of celebrations around the world. I hope you will take a moment to share these with your family. Happy holidays!

Hanukkah (This year in 2017, celebrated right now between December 13-20. Dates change annually.)
Cultural or Religious Origin: Judaism
Purpose: To celebrate a miracle that one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days in the temple.
Symbols/Practices: For eight days, Jews light a special candleholder called a menorah.
Traditions: On Hanukkah, many Jews also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs, and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts or raisins. Families also give one gift each of the eight days. Learn more:

Learn more:

Cultural or Religious Origin: Christianity and Secular
Purpose: To celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, believed by Christians to be the son of God. For the non-religious, the purpose is to give gifts, receive gifts from Santa Claus and celebrate with loved ones.
Symbols/Practices: Santa Claus was originally named after St. Nicolas, a bishop in Turkey, who was a giver of gifts to children. The evergreen tree was originally a German tradition believed to ward off evil spirits. The star is the guiding light that led to the animal manger where the baby was born.
Traditions: Presents are delivered in secret by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve while families are sleeping. Families and friends exchange gifts. Learn more:

Learn more:

Cultural or Religious Origin: African-American
Purpose: Started in the United States to celebrate African heritage for seven days based on African harvest festivals and focused on seven African principles including family life and unity. The name means “first fruits” in Swahili.
Symbols/Practices: Participants wear ceremonial clothing and decorate with fruits and vegetables.
Traditions: They light a candleholder called a kinara and exchange gifts. Learn more:

Learn more:

Chinese New Year
Cultural or Religious Origin: China
Purpose: Celebrate the new year.
Symbols/Practices: Silk dragon in a grand parade is a symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon hibernates most of the year, so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake. Each new year is symbolized by a Zodiacal animal that predicts the characteristics of that year. 2016 is the year of the monkey and 2017 will be the year of the rooster.
Traditions: Many Chinese children dress in new clothes. People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon. People take time off of work for seven days and celebrate the feast with family. Learn more:

Learn more:

Cultural or Religious Origins: Hindu, India
Purpose: The festival of lights honors Lakshmi, India’s goddess of prosperity. It celebrates the inner light that protects all from spiritual darkness.
Symbols/Practices: Millions of lighted clay saucers with oil and a cotton wick are placed near houses and along roads at night.
Traditions: Women float these saucers in the sacred Ganges River, hoping the saucers will reach the other side still lit. Farmers dress up their cows with decorations and treat them with respect. The farmers show their thanks to the cows for helping the farmers earn a living. Learn more:

Learn more:

La Posada
Cultural or Religious Origins: Mexico and parts of Central America, Christian
Purpose: Reenacts the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter to give birth to their son, Jesus. It is a festival of acceptance asking, “Who will receive the child?”
Symbols/Practices: Candles are lit, songs are sung, prayer are offered and, actors dress as Mary and Joseph.
Traditions: People celebrate through song and prayer doing musical re-enactments of the journey. In Mexico and many parts of Central America, people celebrate La Posada in church during the nine days before Christmas. It is a reenactment of the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter before the birth of their child, Jesus. Learn more:

Learn more:

Boxing Day
Cultural or Religious Origins: United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland
Purpose: To share gratitude and give to the poor.
Symbols/Practices: Alms boxes are placed in churches to collect donations for the poor.
Traditions: Servants were given the day off as a holiday. Charitable works are performed. And now major sporting events take place. Learn more:

Learn more:

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Cultural or Religious Origin: Islam, Muslim
Purpose: An entire month is spent re-focusing on Allah (God) and participating in self-sacrifice to cleanse the spirit.
Symbols/Practices: The crescent moon and a star are shown to indicate a month of crescent moons in the night sky. Participants pray daily in mosques. On Eid al-Fitr, they break the fast by dressing in their finest clothing, decorating homes with lights and decorations and giving treats to kids.
Traditions: Not only do celebrants abstain from food, drink, smoke, sexual activity and immoral behavior during the days of Ramadan, they also work to purify their lives by forgiving others and behaving and thinking in positive, ethical ways. They break their fast each day by eating with family and friends after sunset. Breaking the fast on Eid al-Fitr involves making contributions to the poor and gratefulness. Learn more:

Learn more:

Cultural or Religious Origin: Japan
Purpose: This is the Japanese New Year.
Symbols/Practices: Families thoroughly their clean houses to purify it.
Traditions: People remove any clutter and clean their homes to purify them for the new year. They have a giant feast with traditional foods. There’s a national talent competition that families watch until midnight. Bells ring at midnight symbolizing the many forms of human suffering and people go to pray at Shinto shrines. Learn more:

Learn more:

St. Lucia Day
Cultural or Religious Origin: Sweden
Purpose: To honor a third-century saint who was known as a “bearer of light” through dark Swedish winters.
Symbols/Practices: With a wreath of burning candles worn on their heads, girls dress as Lucia brides in long white gowns with red sashes.
Traditions: The Lucia brides wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called “Lucia cats.” Learn more:

Learn more:

Give the Gift of World Culture Exploration

Give the gift of learning more about these beautiful and meaning-filled world holidays with your children and open their eyes to different beliefs and ways of recognizing the season and passages of time. Here are a couple of children’s books and resources to take the next step.


Did you know you could take your family on a world field trip on the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ site?

Check out the Global Exploration page and visit school classrooms around the world, children’s bedrooms in various cultures, and children’s lunches across the globe!


Check out these books:




Children Just Like Me – Celebrations by Anabel Kindersley – Contains beautiful photographs along with descriptions of traditions from numerous world holidays.





Kids Around the World Celebrate! The Best Feasts and Festivals from Many Lands by Lynda Jones – An illustrated guide to many different celebrations around the world.



Check Out these Posters:

Children from Various Parts of the World

Check out these gorgeous posters of children from a variety of countries around the world. The poster set from Lakeshore Learning includes ideas for games and also a paragraph description about each of the countries from which the children poster-packs-by-lakeshoreoriginate. We plan to post one per week and have a family dinner in which we talk about that country.





Confident Parents, Confident Kids Appreciation of Differences Posters


Or check out the posters on this site that offer social awareness and diversity appreciation for your home or classroom!

Deck the Halls with Mental Well-Being

Managing Our Own Seasonal Stress Just Might Be the Greatest Gift of All

My son burst into tears as his friends waited at our door to play. He had fallen up our stairs and gashed his shin on the metal rims of the hall steps. I plopped on the floor to comfort him and as he turned to me, he said, “Mom, you told me to hurry.” And why? Why did he need to hurry? In my mind, I had a million tasks to accomplish including facilitating his tasks – homework, dinner and holiday preparations. I had thought it could be good for him to get outside and run around with his pals for a short time. But I was pressuring him to hurry up and why? “Quick, go examine bugs under the rocks?!” The pointlessness of my urging dawned on me. As he ran out and the door shut, I noticed the quiet in our house and really stopped for the first time that day. What was I doing?

With the holiday season upon us – no matter what holiday you are celebrating – you may be feeling similarly – fully in the throes of too much to do with too little time. And the knot in your tummy may be growing as mine has been. In a time when I want to produce joy for my family, I realize I am a lesser version of what I can be because of stress. I know I will get to this anxiety-ridden place well before the major events actually happen. And somehow I feel powerless to stop it. There’s still work to get accomplished before taking time off. There’s still the same amount of presents to buy for others (and actually, more as E’s friends and connections grow). There’s still cookies to bake, decorations to hang and packages to send.

And so I write this post to help myself as much as you, dear reader, think about and deal with the situation we find ourselves in. In the very midst of the chaos, how can we keep our calm center? And how can we recall that our state of mind and being will impact the way others experience our celebrations together? Our stress will show. And whether we like or not, it’s contagious. It spreads like a virus and others get snappy and agitated – not conducive attitudes for cooperation more less jubilation.

Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, all of the major holidays this season celebrate light in the darkness. And that’s the gift I most want to give my family and the one I think they will appreciate beyond the “stuff.” Yes, I’ll bring gifts. But more importantly, I am setting an intention to prepare myself for the experience of celebrating with family and friends. I plan to deck our halls with a feeling of peace and joy and appreciation for others and our abundance. And I know that has to begin with me. Here are a few things I plan to do that, maybe, you’ll consider for yourself.

Engage in deep breathing each day. I was in the habit of taking ten deep breaths before I launched into work each morning but my routine fell away as the season crowded my moments. So I plan to return to this practice to set a tone for my day.

Get exercise and fresh air. The routine of breathing outside and getting to the gym could easily also fall away with the season. But I know these are the activities that keep me centered, focused and feeling resilient. So I plan to make special arrangements while my son is home over the extended break so that I am sure to keep my routines sacred for the benefit of my whole family. If I cannot get to the gym, then a walk around the block will become an easy substitute.

Mentally prepare before events. My sparkling outfit is not as important as the demeanor, the tone or the mood I bring to any celebration. Whether it’s in my own home, at a friend’s house or in a restaurant, the way I engage with others matters significantly. It can mean the difference between really connecting or “phoning it in” without true interchange. There may be individuals that you celebrate with only one time a year. This is that moment, that unique opportunity to bring your focused attention to them. I will set my own intention to focus on the present before I go so that when I arrive, I am ready to fully engage with whoever comes my way. I’ll stop and take a pause before leaving the house or answering the doorbell. This small step can have a ripple effect on my own and my family’s experience of the holidays. I know this will set an example and tone for my child. I notice when I’m stressed, he’s stressed. But when I’m calm and engaging with others, he does the same.

Set goals for connection. When you go to a party, you likely anticipate who you’ll see. Sometimes that anticipation creates anxiety if you’ve had challenges with individuals in the past or if those individuals view you in ways that you do not view yourself. Those interactions can be opportunities for your own growth in social and emotional competence. Instead of dreading those who challenge you, ask yourself three important questions.

  • What can I learn from this individual who challenges me?
  • How can I begin to understand her perspective and feel compassion for her?
  • How can I bring my best self to that conversation?

I know that if I model curiosity and compassion, that will have a direct impact on how my child interacts with others. I want to leave a party feeling like I know more about the individuals that I met than I did walking into the room. And what if I also learned more about myself by attempting to relinquish worries about what I’m saying and what messages I’m communicating about my own life but focus on learning about others, finding common ground and sharing my ability to be empathetic and show care?

Say “no” when it’s too much. Instead of cramming each activity into every space of time in the few weeks left in the year, consider what might be too much. Have you accounted for quiet rest time? Have you considered how the pace will impact family members? We rarely plan our schedules for our mental well-being but particularly in this season of over-commitment, it can be worth asking, “What do we really want or need to do?” “When can we get in rest time?” and “Are there plans we need to say “no” to?

Express gratitude daily. The holiday season is a time of high contrasts – tremendous sorrow missing loved ones that have passed on or reflecting upon our tough circumstances and then, also feeling the magic, imagination and sheer bliss of children’s experience of the traditions surrounding the holidays. It’s an emotional time. So it requires us to become more planful about our big emotions. One way to balance out our adult angst is to express gratitude with our children daily. Whether you mention your gratitude over breakfast or during the ride home from school or at bedtime, kids will benefit by actively appreciating all that they have. And you will benefit by recognizing the goodness in your life. If one of your traditions includes an advent calendar, why not offer words of gratitude with each passing day as you count down the season? It will assist you as you set a positive tone with your family.

Carving out time and space for your mental well-being may seem like another “to do” to add to the list. But consider the fact that paying attention to the tone of your family and setting an example will give you energy and motivation as you gently experience your days. The gift of your attention certainly is one of the most important for your children and your partner. You will be setting the tone for all members of your household to truly experience all of the enjoyment the season has to offer. While you are decorating your home, consider how you might also deck your halls with mental well-being this season! Happy holidays!

Published originally on Confident Parents, Confident Kids on December 13, 2016.

In Search of Purpose

New Opportunities to Help Our Teens Find Meaning

Though the answer to the question, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” continues to change – and precisely because the answer changes – we ask it throughout childhood. My four-year-old declared he wanted to be Darth Vader. My seven-year-old knew he wanted to be a Dad someday. And my now ten-year-old is an aspiring Lego Master Builder. Children dream of what they will do and more importantly, who they will become as they grow. Discovering the “why” of one’s life, the meaning behind your own unique way of being and contributing is your sense of purpose. It’s the answer to the big question – “Why am I here?” – and it evolves over a lifetime. In fact, as adults, we may grapple with our own sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. And that grappling is critical. Children and adults who wrestle to find their own answers and attempt to live in alignment with their sense of purpose tend to be happier and enjoy greater mental well-being says research.

As the numbers of U.S. tweens and teens who struggle with anxiety and depression grow, conversations about their unique potentials for contributions to the world become vital. Because the only person to know and uncover your child’s purpose is your child, listening and opening the door to reflection is more important than pointing to any answers.

Young children can begin to make the connection between life choices and sense of purpose as you reflect on your own decisions as a parent. What is meaningful to you? Why do you engage in the work or other activities you engage in? And how does that engagement relate to the larger world? How have you discovered your own sense of meaning and ways to contribute?

Perhaps the way we get in our own way in finding our own sense of purpose is by fearing the “what if.” “What if I am no good at what I aspire to?” “What if I get rejected?” “What if my interests don’t point to a money-making or practical opportunity?” Children, as they grow and become more socially aware, hold these fears too whether they are willing to voice them or not. So how do we help them not allow fears to dictate their future? How do we help them find their own authenticity?

We best assist our children in finding their purpose by placing our trust in their ability to find their own answers. We can demonstrate that confidence by reaffirming their inner knowledge each time they question it. Susie, at age eleven, asserted, “I can’t begin piano now. Everyone already knows how to play. I don’t know anything.” Yet Susie showed she had a genuine interest as she hung around the piano and watched others play longingly. We all have those moments of looking up at the mountain of learning before us. But when we follow our interests, our pulls, our curiosities – and when parents support their children in doing so – we get closer to understanding who we are and why we are who we are.

Discovering our sense of purpose begins with those interests but is further refined when we ask, “How can my unique interests benefit the world?” Then we can begin to make connections to a larger purpose finding our own place in contributing to the greater good. And when we identify how we can help contribute to something bigger, we are motivated to do whatever is necessary to make a difference. There are certainly enough issues to tackle. Our world needs every single high school graduate to find their own best way to serve.

When our emerging adult sons and daughters come to us in frustration, we can guide them to search within. You might hear, “Everyone else knows what they are going to do with their lives. I have no clue!” Or perhaps you recall uttering similar words at one point yourself. What if your parent told you that you already possessed the answers? What if they encouraged you to get quiet, to ask questions about what you love, what you care about and how you could contribute, and really listen? Then you could gain insight into the realm of your very own potentials.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley recognizes the importance of helping young people discover their sense of purpose. They’ve created the Purpose Challenge – a set of resources including guiding questions to stir deeper thinking and a scholarship fund in order to support this effort and encourage more young people to explore from within. If you are a parent of high school age children, this is well worth checking out! Here’s more on this wonderful opportunity:

About The Purpose Challenge:

An innovative and inspiring new online tool, The Purpose Challenge incorporates video content, reading materials, and brief written exercises – such as imagining your ideal life at age 40 – to help high school seniors reflect on and refine their sense of purpose. It draws on decades of research into the roots and benefits of purpose.

Teens can then inject their newly fleshed out sense of purpose in their college application essay and win up to $25,000 for college! The deadline is February 1, 2018. Learn more at

Why Purpose?

The partners in this effort including University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the John Templeton Foundation and the social impact company, Prosocial believe purpose is critically important. Research has shown that a strong sense of purpose – a commitment to something that is both personally rewarding and beneficial to others – is linked to improved health, well-being, and success. A stronger sense of purpose can make a significant difference in a young person’s life path, setting them on a course for a more successful, meaningful life.

Check out this fantastic brief video that shares more on understanding your purpose.


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