Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Wise People Seek Wise Counsel

Wise people seek wise counsel.

That might mean a good counselor or possibly a mentor/coach. It might be a friend who is where you want to be and is willing to share insights. It may be another parent who manages what you are struggling with and is willing to walk you through how they have accomplished what they have accomplished.

1. Friends – I recall many decades ago I was struggling as a mom with a house full of kids. I was yelling and stressed and trust me so were my kids. However, I had a friend who was calm with her children, and she had one who was a tantrum thrower. I asked her about it, and she showed me how she dealt with her over-the-top child. I was astonished. It had never occurred to me that you could remain calm when your child was not. I had not seen that from the adults in my life.

This friend of mine helped me practice and talked with me weekly for a good while. She helped me on my journey to a calmer way of being. It didn’t cost a cent.

2. Hire a mentor/coach – When I was writing my book, I needed some help. I was doing OK in the writing department, but I needed accountability. So, I hired an accountability coach. We talked on the phone once a week. She had published several books and was able to show me the flaws in my excuses as to why I couldn’t do this hard thing. Having her to bounce my doubts and fears off made all the difference.

3. Hire a trained counselor – Another time, decades ago, when I had a child struggling in a way that I couldn’t manage I hired a counselor. As my daughter and I met with her she was able to help me see how to help my child and she was able to show my child ways that she could help herself. 

Recently, I advised one of my mentees to hire a trained counselor to work on some issues that are wreaking havoc in her marriage. She has and it is making a difference. Wise people seek the correct wise counsel!

4. Read books – When I was a very young mom, with only two children, I began reading a book on parenting. It was so over my head that I couldn’t finish it. I hated that book because it made me feel so inadequate, but it had shown me that I needed some skills that I had never seen used. I must admit it took a few years for me to get serious about changing my way of being as a parent. When I did another book showed up, and then another book. Change for me was a process. I never did finish that first book but what little I read led me on a path to where I am today.

5. Prayer – One of my first lines of defense, when I am in over my head, is prayer. Yes, you heard that right, I pray. I have had decades of experience in hearing the voice of the Spirit and it has saved me a lot of grief. When I realized I would have to stop teaching and speaking, to care for my mother and husband I was at a loss. This was my dream and being a full-time caregiver wasn’t! But I also knew this was the correct path. How would I know what to do? How could I stay out of resentment? How could I still write when my time would be at a premium?

Prayer has been the BIGGEST help of all! I am counseled as I go through my day. I have been shown how to deal with resentment. I have been shown what my mother and husband need, things I never would have thought of by myself. My heart has been softened. I am learning to touch more. : ) It has made a world of difference in the last three years.

And I have been counseled as to how to continue to do what I enjoy, that helps me make a difference in the bigger world, write. That has meant a great deal to me. I know that I am loved!

Wise people seek wise counsel from the sources that are available to them.

As we seek help more resources open. I have a friend who is a single mother. She is also self-employed and homeschools. Wow! Yes, she is a busy woman, but I can tell you she is also happy. That hasn’t always been the case.

When I first began working with her, she was feeling very stuck in life, as a person, as a mom, and as an entrepreneur. She had been in this stuck place for a few years. But within six months she was unstuck in all three areas and moving forward. How does that happen?

Well, she reached out to me, and I was able to help her with her homeschooling dilemmas and point her to other resources that made a difference. That’s what she came to me for. But I was also able to help her with some of the places where she was stuck in life. Why? Because I am much older and asked lots of thought-provoking questions. I was able to help her see what she couldn’t see amid her worries and fears. We became friends, she trusted me, and she moved forward even when the path wasn’t totally clear!

I couldn’t help her with her business but because she had experienced the value of seeking wise counsel a resource opened which revolutionized her work. It took six months but by the end of that time, she had outsourced much of the load, had learned new strategies which streamlined her business and increased her income. All this before she even thought about adding new clients or raising her rates. Seeking wise counsel changed her life, her kid’s education, her work.

As an aside, let me say that a few years have passed, and she is again stuck. Yes, that is how life works. It is never easy or smooth. But she has learned that wise people seek wise counsel. She knows from experience that if she stays the course, takes responsibility, and prays, the resources she needs will show up.

If you are struggling as a parent, take the time to honestly look at the issues. Do your systems stink? Do you lack skills? Is your confidence in the toilet? Do you feel unfulfilled in some way? Are your most important relationships rocky? Do you need some behavior modification? Have you forgotten how to care for yourself?

Be open to learning and resources show up. Read, ask good questions. Look at your situation honestly. Make the changes you can. Then do a bit more, look deeply at yourself.

In the end, it is all about you. You are the only person you really have any control over. You are the one who must grow and change no matter what anyone else around you does. You have heard one of my favorite quotes before. This one voice made me so mad and changed my life at the same time. What Viktor Frankl said is true, whether you are ready to believe it or not. If you are not ready to accept it do what I did. Let it settle into your heart until you can bear it and then it will change you and your life.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Wise people seek wise counsel. Determine what you can change and then take control of yourself. Let go of blame. Seek the help you need to begin making a change. Practice. Doing this gives you all the power and will revolutionize your life.

I am speaking from seven decades of experience on both sides of this fence.
I hope you believe me. : )

How to Leave Work and Be Present With Your Family

I heard something on TV recently, of all places, and I thought it was worth passing on because the truth is, when you do work outside of your family, regardless of what it is, it is tough to ‘be home’ and leave that work at work.

I don’t usually watch tv. However, Don was watching the Equalizer, and I was baking cookies so I could see and hear the television. The series centers around Robyn McCall, a single mother with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. In this episode, Robyn was having a hard time letting go of the case she was working on, to focus on her teenage daughter.

Robyn was working with a detective from the police department who seemed able to leave work at work even though people’s lives hung in the balance. She asked him how he was able to turn work off so that he could BE with his family the way he did? His response was terrific. The detective said that he had a ritual when he arrived at home and stood inside his doorway. “I hold my keys, feel the weight in my hands, and remind myself that I am home. Then I hang them up and am present with my family.”

Robyn stood inside her front door, held her keys, and looked at them in the final scene. Then she shifted her weight, hung up the keys, yelled, “I’m home,” and walked towards her daughter.

A tip to help you leave work both physically and mentally

When it is time to end your work and be with your family, have family rituals, systems, or traditions that you engage in. Rituals, systems, or traditions work the same whether your job is outside the home or your job is in your home. These rituals, systems, or traditions can pull you back into your family.

Some Examples

One of my friends is a very successful entrepreneur. She has a great deal to do each day, and her office is in her home. Ten minutes before her kids come home, she shuts the office down. Next, she prepares for what she calls ‘hugs and tickles.’ As each child arrives home, there is a tussle of tickling, hugging, falling on the couch, and rolling on the floor. This activity changes the tone of the day for this mom. Then she asks about school, gets kids to do their homework, and thinks about dinner. Later in the evening, she may have an appointment or call, but she will have spent at least 3-4 hours of quality time with her kids.

Another mom has a 9 to 5 job. She is a manager, and it is stressful. But when she arrives at home, the first thing she does is drop her purse and go to each child and hug them. Then the family prepares dinner and sets the table. They work as a team. They each share what was great about the day and what wasn’t so great at dinner.

If you work at a job or run a business from your home, then it will help you disengage if you have some activity you do consistently that lets your brain know that, at least for now, you are home and your family matters. Of course, there will be days that don’t go as planned and days when you don’t have it together. But if you can put your system, tradition, or ritual in play even a portion of the time, it will make a big difference in your ability to be present and work on family relationships.

You can’t be Present until you learn to leave work at work.

Physical Connection Matters!

I have a friend, Ann, who has taught children with special needs for 16 years. I have been in her classroom, and she is terrific. But this year, she retired, and her kids miss her.

We were talking recently about her retirement. 2020 was tough because they could not touch the kids because of Covid. Remember that these are special needs kids, and there was no hugging, no touching, no patting backs, or rubbing shoulders. No sitting by the kids, no connection. WOW! She said that by mid-year, her class was chaos. There were more tantrums, arguments, and problems than she had experienced in her fifteen previous years.

Then she made an executive decision. She decided that she would touch the kids. She would wear a mask, but she would physically connect. Guess what happened? Within two weeks, the chaos and problems were 95% better.

Did you catch that number, a 95% reduction in tantrums and chaos? We all need a physical connection. It doesn’t matter if we are special needs, spouses, friends, neighbors; it doesn’t matter. We need a physical connection with our world and the people in it.  I have known for years, and I have taught that parents need to touch their kids more often, and it can be done without adding time to your day. I call it RANDOM TOUCH.

Currently, I am getting some re-education in this powerful concept myself. My mom has Alzheimer’s and lives with me. Recently her dog, Little Girl, died after being mom’s companion for seventeen years. Mom was in a funk. In talking with a friend, I was reminded about random touch and that it might be a valuable tool in helping my mom. So, I have been testing it out. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome.

I love my mom, and she loves me, but she isn’t a touchy-feely person, and neither am I. I don’t recall being hugged or snuggled as a kid. As a parent, I had to remind myself constantly to touch my kids. I wasn’t always successful. In fact, I still must remind myself to hug my kids, grands, and friends. But I know how much it matters, and I am better at it.

I can see that my mom is responding to the increased touching. My mother is calmer; we have better conversations; she gets dressed earlier and turns on her light. Hugging my mom more has softened me; I am more tender. Does that sound like something that might be useful with any of your kids?

I want to emphasize that touching your children matters when they’re small; it matters, even more, when they’re a youth, and it will continue to matter when they’re adults.

Random touch – what is it, and what does it look like

Random touches are just that, random. They don’t require any reason for the touch or hug. They happen whenever you’re close to your child.

Here are a few examples of what a random touch looks like in real life:
• If you see your child sitting on the couch, at the table, on their bed, or anywhere, stop, sit close to them, stay for 20–30 seconds, squeeze a knee or give a quick hug, and go on your way. No need to say a word.
• When you go into your child’s room to wake them up, hug them. Don’t stand in the hall and yell, “Get up.” Instead, go in; give a gentle shake to the shoulder and a hug. Say, “Hey, buddy. It’s time to get up.” It will take a few more seconds than yelling from the hall but remember to stay out of management mode and build your relationship instead.
• As you walk through a room or down the hall and see one of your children, look them in the eye and smile. Touch them on their back, arm, or shoulder as they pass by. Don’t say anything; just give a squeeze or a pat. You can do this a dozen times a day and use up only a few minutes.
• When you’re moving from one room to another (as you go through your day) and see one of your children, make a slight detour. Grab your child and tickle them for a few moments, just long enough to get a little tussle going. Then gently punch a shoulder or tousle a head and move on.
• Hold your child’s hand when you’re walking together or keep your hand on their back or shoulder for a few moments at a time.
• Rub your child’s back while sitting in church, in the doctor’s waiting room, and so on.

Random touches are an effective tool for connecting in astounding ways with your children. Random touch helps reduce the need for discipline, opens pathways to short conversations, melts stony hearts, and bonds children to parents. I want you to understand how powerful this one skill can be in changing the dynamics of your family. It’s easy to do, takes only moments, and practically shouts “You matter” to your child. It was shouting that to my mom, and it shouted ‘you matter’ to my friend’s classroom of special needs kids.

Respect their boundaries if you have a child or youth who doesn’t like to be touched. Remember that I was a bit touch adverse, but I still wanted to connect in meaningful ways, and so do your children. Experiment to find out what is acceptable to your child. For example, a teen may not want to be hugged but may allow you to rub their back.

Experiment with random touch and I know you will be

amazed at the result!

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

I wrote this true short story many decades ago for my parents, for Christmas. I was working on letting them know how much I appreciated all they had given me despite the lacks in my family of origin. Isn’t that how it is in most families. Our parents can only bring to their parenting what they have and they add to their skills as they go. Being the first child, I experienced some of those lacks but as I grew, I also saw my parents grow. Anyway, I wanted them to know how grateful I was.

I posted it on my old website way back in 2011. I can’t believe that ten years have gone by! I wouldn’t have thought to repost it this year except for an unusual happening.  I was asked to submit a Christmas story for an anthology, which I did. I submitted this story.

I have to say that it doesn’t match most of the stories in  Tis the Season: A Christmas Survival Guide. The stories are not the magical kind we usually read about but are filled with tales of the chaos and sometimes hurt that accompanies the holiday for many. I don’t know why my story was chosen as it is peaceful and loving. It is also the final story in the book. I suppose it was becuase I ended it with ‘Merry Christmas.’ : )

At any rate, it caused me to think again about this family happening and my parents who were doing their very best for me and my siblings. I thought it might bring some treasured Christmas memories to your mind at this season of family and Christ. I hope you enjoy the read, the heart, and the generosity of both parent and child.

Christmas Past – A Gift of Charity

A true short story, written by Mary Ann Johnson years ago when her children were young, and she was remembering.

black and white photo of little girl smiling
Mary Ann, almost five, see the buttons!

THE HEATER MADE a steady hum as it singed the small bits of pine I had placed on top. I’d never seen a heater like it until we moved into the new house. It was brown, shiny, and huge. It wasn’t as homey as Grandma’s Ben Franklin, but it was warm and didn’t create clinkers, for which I was grateful. The pine was Mother’s idea. She liked the smell the needles gave off as they slowly turned brown.

I was five years old, and Idaho Falls was cold and windy. Inside, it was warm and cozy. There were six of us, and the house was small. I saw it years later and small was a generous word for it. At the time, it seemed perfect.

Christmas was coming, and as always during that season, the sewing machine was humming away. Pieces of black velvet and red taffeta littered the floor. I noticed the buttons first, the most beautiful buttons in the world, shiny white with rhinestone centers. Those buttons were a treasure sewn on a cardboard square. I would have paid at least a quarter for them, a vast sum hidden away in my bank.

But the buttons weren’t for sale. They were going onto elegant dresses that my sisters and I watched take shape until I could hold back my curiosity no longer.

woman smiling picture
NaVon, our mom, a mere 23 years old.

“Mom, are the dresses for us? Can we wear them?”

“No,” she replied.

Who else would they be for?

With patience, mom explained that there was a family who needed help making Christmas special. We had so much, she said. She ticked our blessings off on her fingers. I remember the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had never had a beautiful dress like that, never a dress with buttons that shone like stars.

As the days passed, the emptiness in my stomach was being filled, for as my mother sewed, she poured into me a feeling of gratitude for blessings received and a spirit of giving. She made me a co-conspirator. I cared for the baby, played quietly, and picked up those lovely scraps so she could continue to sew.

Soon the dresses were finished and gone. The gifts of love had been delivered. Then my mother began pouring charity into the empty place that the actual departure of the dresses left.

“Now girls, when we go to church, you’ll see those dresses on three other little girls. Don’t say a word. We want them to feel happy and proud. This is our special Christmas secret. Remember that it’s important for people to have dignity and be happy.”

We three, Cindy, Shirley, and I, turned our young faces to her and beamed. We trusted the words of our mother. We knew we could keep the secret. I had a feeling of joy in my stomach. Emptiness no longer lingered there.

Christmas night was torture. Every child has felt the pangs of anxiety: will the doll be there, the train, the blocks? Every child has felt the excitement. How can I wait? How can I sleep? Sleep stayed away for a long time.

It was still dark when we raced to Mom and Dad’s room. They arose slowly—too slowly! — finding slippers and waking the baby. Then there was the interminable wait as Dad lit the tree and turned up the heat. Finally, we were free to run pell-mell into an ecstasy that would last all day.

three sisters smiling picture
Shirley Kay, Cindy Lu, Mary Ann

What? I stopped short. There they were among the gifts: those buttons attached to black velvet and red taffeta dresses. What a surprise and joy.

As I sailed into church later that day, I was wearing a prized gift, but the most precious Christmas gift I received that season was carried in my heart: gratitude for what I had, the love of sharing, and charity for others. This gift, given to me by my mother so many Christmases ago, has made all the difference in the quality of my life. Thanks, Mom!

Also, a thank you to my dad, who is now gone. He made wonderful toys with his own hands. We had them for many, many years, and they delighted all nine of us children.

baby cribs picture                  cupboard pictures                 toy horse picture

Merry Christmas!

I Hit My Daughter. WHAT!!

A while back, I began thinking I needed to tackle the tough things I learned as a mom. But I have put it off. How do you talk about the tough stuff? I have given it a lot of thought. I know this is a direction I should go. I have wondered why. Maybe because times are hard right now, and I feel sure some struggling parents out there need to know that even very imperfect people can and do raise beautiful and successful families. So I will give it a go, and if I survive and you survive, I will know it was the correct move. : )

At one time, we had one child just out of high school, three younger teens, and one pre-teen. That is a lot of hormones! Some of those kids were struggling in school and life. We weren’t getting much support from the school, community, or our church family. In fact, a couple of my children were shunned by families at church whose children they had played with for years. I guess our struggles were too scary for some of the parents we had spent a few decades with.

All that put me on edge. I felt like a failure, and I was mad. I wanted my family to look and feel like it had just a few years earlier and like my friends’ families looked. It was challenging to stay up until all the kids were back in the house and then get up in the morning and function. It was tough when a child didn’t come home, and I searched for them late into the night. It didn’t help that my sweet and worried husband was on the road five days a week for some of those years. Man, some days, I felt like I carried the weight of the world.

One afternoon one of my younger teens was mouthing off. I tried reasoning with her. She began hollering and talking very rudely. The tirade went on for a while, and finally, I hit her in the shoulder with my fist. WHAT!!! What kind of mother does that? Well, the kind I just described in the paragraph above. My daughter ran to her room and slammed the door. I fell to my knees and wept.

While I was weeping, I began to pray. I plead with my Heavenly Father to forgive me for not managing myself like an adult, for not being more long-suffering and loving. In my heart, I knew that I could never fix this. I had done irreparable damage to this important relationship.

But WAIT! Into my mind came this thought, “Go and put lotion on her feet.” You’re kidding, right? I had NEVER done that before. But it was a clear thought, and I have had many experiences calling on a power greater than myself. I knew what it felt like to get a response, and this was a response from that power.

I got up and walked down the hall. I felt as if I had lead weights on my ankles. That was the longest walk of my life! I was afraid because I didn’t want to be yelled at or rejected or pushed to the edge again. I couldn’t see how this could work. Not in a million years. I had just socked my fourteen-year-old daughter with my fist.

I have to be honest; I stood at that door, petrified to knock for over five minutes with a bottle of lotion in my hand. But I did knock. “Who is it?” “It’s mom. Can I come in?” “Yes.” I opened the door and sat on the bed. My daughter was sitting with her back against the wall, and her feet were stretched across the bed. I reached out, took one of her feet into my hands, and began to rub lotion on it. I rubbed that foot for at least three minutes. Then my daughter moved that foot away and gave me her other foot. I began lotioning that foot. We sat like this, with me rubbing her feet and she leaning against the wall, watching me.

Finally, she pulled her foot away. I looked at her and said, “Marie, I am so sorry I hit you. It was wrong, and I am sorry.” She said, “That’s OK.” Then she began talking, and before I knew it, all her anger, sadness, fears, and worries were spilling out. She was accusing Don and me of things, describing things in a way that was not how they happened. I wanted to defend us, her parents. I wanted her to understand what she didn’t see clearly, but in truth, my tongue was tied. I couldn’t utter a sound, and after a few minutes, I no longer wanted to. I wanted this sweet child to be able to say whatever she needed to say, right or wrong. I wanted her to know that she was safe with me. The tirade went on for at least fifteen minutes.

Then it stopped, just stopped. Marie looked at me, and I took her into my arms and said, “Marie, I am sorry. I love you.” And I was sorry. I was sad that I had not remained in control of my emotions, that she had angry feelings. I was sorry that she had stored so much emotion. I was sorrowful that my sweet daughter was struggling. She leaned into me, and I held her for a long time. Then we parted. I got up, touched her cheek, said “I love you” again, and left the room.

You would never have known I had hit her or that she had dumped on me for fifteen minutes. The energy was different for the rest of the evening. We smiled. It felt good. Oh, life didn’t get easier for our family or this child for a good while. But for that day and a few after, we were tied heart to heart.

This experience taught me two critical lessons 

1. You can repair relationships. I saw firsthand that you can heal a relationship when you are invested and are willing to seek counsel outside of your own. For me, it was asking God. Others ask a counselor or therapist. When we want to heal a relationship with a child, and we are willing to seek a way, solutions come.

2. You must listen. Even if you want to defend yourself or feel it’s not true, you must be quiet and let your child know that you heard. More than rubbing Marie’s feet, I think it was the safety I gave her to say what was burdening her heart, true or not, that made all the difference. Despite my socking her, she saw and felt that I was a safe place for her. I know this is true because Marie would come to me for counsel, help, and hugs during the hard years.

One day, while she was still struggling herself, and we had other struggling children, I found a note. Marie had written it because she knew how hard it was for me, Don, and our family. She wanted to do for me what I had done for her on that long-ago day when I reached out to heal a relationship. She wanted to help me feel better.

An excerpt from that beautiful letter:

“You’re doing everything you can to try and make our home and family what it should be. I wanted to let you in on a secret of mine. Our house is a temple. I love my home. I come here for protection and solace. This place is a haven, a place for love and spiritual replenishment. When times are the worst, I long to be home where there’s peace for my soul. No mother. Your efforts are far from in vain! I wanted you to know how much I love you and how much I love my home.”

No matter what is happening in your family, if you stay the course, ask for help from divine and earthly sources and believe that meaningful relationships can be healed, it will be enough no matter how bumpy the road is.

It will be enough!

What Makes a Memory That Matters?

What Makes a Great Memory

My adult children stay very connected via a video chat app. They talk about all kinds of things, health, work, kids, weather, holidays, etc. But, just this week, they were discussing a topic that blew me away – a jar of buttons and books of stickers. This conversation blew me away because I had no knowledge that these two items from our home had such a significant impact on all of them, from the oldest to the youngest.

When I was a young mom, stickers became a thing. You could buy stickers in the store that depicted animals, cartoon characters, flowers, etc. Before that, it was primarily stickers to use on charts in school, for chores, and garage sales.

I was fascinated with the stickers and created a couple of sticker books over the next few years. My kids would look at them for hours. However, when I moved, all the kids had gone from home except Kate, so I let them go. Some years later, Seth asked me if he could have them because he had enjoyed them so much. But alas, they were gone. I didn’t know until this sibling conversation that Seth has been collecting stickers ever since, and some are well over 20 years old.

What began the conversation was Kate, my youngest, telling me that my granddaughter, Tessa, is into stickers. Kate was hoping that I still had the books and that Tessa could have them. Marie, my middle daughter, reminded me that she had also asked for the books some years ago.

WHAT! Who would have thought that something as simple as sticker books created by me and shared by my children would have touched the hearts of all my kids enough that three of them asked if they could have them?

Then someone mentioned the gallon of buttons that we had. They all said that they loved dumping them out on the carpet and sorting the buttons. I can recall Kate and Barry pouring over the pile as they worked together. Who has a gallon of buttons anyway? Well, I did because my grandmother had one, and I loved sorting the buttons. But, unfortunately, that went during our move to Utah too.

A couple of years ago, Marie told me that Matilda loved buttons and hoped I still had that gallon jar of them. I didn’t, so I created her a jar, but a gallon of buttons is hard to find, so it was a quart. Then, her older brother, Parker, fell in love with buttons, and I made him a quart.


The world is filled with things we can buy for our kids—toys, technology, clothes, and gadgets. There are many places that we can take them—theme parks, water parks, grand vacations. We live in a world influenced by media, which says that good parents give their kids ___________.

There isn’t anything wrong with taking our children on cool trips or buying them a special toy or piece of clothing, but in the final analysis, no matter what we think, it won’t be any of those things that our children will remember with the most fondness. Instead, it will be the simple, family things.

When I was writing my book, Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with your children in five minutes or less, I did some unscientific research on this very thing. I asked my adult children and their spouses what their fondest memories were from childhood. Here are a few shortened responses:

Jenny—“Playing with the big jar of buttons!”
Marie—“I remember loving to look at your sticker books.
Barry—“I loved sitting in the dark with the Christmas lights on in the living room.”
Seth—“I loved New Year’s Eve and the cheese and meat tray that we ate while sitting on the floor watching a movie.
Jodie—“My most cherished memories are of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I loved all the little traditions we had, from the way we decorated to making gingerbread houses to what we ate.”
Kate—“I remember when you stood up, not saying a word when I fell during a cheer contest. I knew you were silently saying, ‘Get up. You can do it.’”
Andrew—“I remember working with Dad in the crawl space. I don’t think either of us actually liked going down there, but we did like working together.”

I also put the question of fond memories to my daughter-in-law, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Here are a few of their responses:

Cindy (a sister)—“I remember mom reading us a chapter each night from Old Yeller. I loved the inflections in her voice, that undivided time with her, and the comfort of our warm bed.”
Deidra (a niece)—“My mom used to sell Avon, and she would keep all the big boxes her orders came in. We used the boxes to make houses to play in. It was so fun!”
Nanette (a sister)—“Mom helped me sew a dress for 4H. It was so cool and had pom poms on the hem. I was constantly breaking the sewing machine, and she would always get it working again. I won 1st place and went to state. To this day, I sew because she taught me.”

Are you getting the picture? It’s interesting to note that most of these happy and pleasant memories are of events that happened in the course of daily living. Not one respondent mentioned a fancy toy, a fancy vacation to a memorable place, name-brand clothes, a cool car the family had, the size of their home, or where their home was. No one mentioned the great lessons or classes they took. No one said Little League or other teams they played on. Not one.

Memories Come from simple Things at Home

It isn’t just little kids who love being at home whose memories and happiness hinge on simple everyday things. In a study of thirteen to twenty-four-year-olds conducted by the Associated Press and MTV, more than 100 questions were asked of 1,280 young people. The questions were all centered on determining what made these youth happy. Can you guess the number one answer? Spending time with family! Yup, that’s right, spending time with family. These kids and young adults were ages thirteen to twenty-four ((Associated Press, “Youth Happiness Study,” 2).

My favorite response to my question about memories that mattered came from my sweet daughter-in-law, Kendra. She said, “Something I’ll always cherish from my childhood was the time my parents spent with me outdoors, going to the beach, hiking, fishing, swimming, and letting me be a kid. It was something we often did because it didn’t cost much, but to me, it was the greatest thing ever. In fact, one time, my dad took me to Disneyland, and I asked him if we could leave and go to the beach. I look back on that now and think that must have both surprised him and probably made him wish he had saved all that money.”

A Gallon of Buttons and Sticker Books. Amazingly enough, these things said ‘family’ to my children. They said, “You are part of something bigger than yourself, and you belong here.”

Tips for Lasting Memories

If you want your kids to have wonderful and lasting memories that they will talk about decades from now:

    • Stay home more
    • Spend less money
    • Be on screens less
    • Keep life simpler

All these items are a challenge in today’s world but will be worth the effort in the long run and will bless your children and their children.

Let your friends know that memories come from the simple things

we do in our family. 

Experiments to Improve Family Relationships

Experiments to Improve Family Relationships


A few years ago, I mentored a mom who has four children. I had known this woman for a while, and we were friends. She is a great mom and a wonderful person. At one of our sessions, we talked about her relationship with her 17-year-old daughter.

My friend was answering some thoughtful questions about “how” she is when she is with her daughter. She realized that she was often too critical and that their conversations were usually about chores and schoolwork even though her daughter has things she wants to share. The seventeen-year-old wanted to talk with her mom but she didn’t seem to know when the time was right. She chose to share when her mom was working, getting ready to go somewhere, or helping another child. They wanted to spend more time together, but they were both often tired and on edge. To avoid blow-ups they avoided each other.

Experimenting With Making a Change

When mentoring I often ask my client to pick one or two things that they would most like to see changed in the relationship with someone that matters to them. Then I ask them to come up with an experiment to see what might happen to the relationship.

I love experiments because they are just that, experiments. They are designed for the purpose of seeing if you can get a certain result by doing something new or different. Sometimes the experiment is successful and sometimes it isn’t. When you don’t get the desired result, you just design a new experiment. No failure here.

This mom came up with an experiment to increase the time she and her daughter spent talking and to decrease the time they feel tired and at odds with one another.

I want you to remember that this girl is 17, almost 18 years old. I work mostly with children from infancy to 12 or 13. Nevertheless, the mom tried using a connection technique that I teach all the time to use with children. For one week she was going to give her daughter as many random touches as she could remember.

A random touch looks like this:

• As you walk past the child you reach out and touch them in a friendly way while smiling. No conversation is necessary.
• If you see a child sitting on the couch, a bed, or any place like that, you plop down by them, lean back, and rest for 10 to 30 seconds. Then you squeeze a knee or pat a shoulder and go on your way. No conversation is necessary.

The Result of the Experiment

Here is what came out of the experiment. The relationship felt better. They spent more time together even when tired. Mom was more aware. The daughter talked and mom listened more. My friend and client said that looking at the relationship and asking questions about it helped her to be more conscientious about the fact that the relationship was more important than the management part of parenting. She also said she felt more purposeful in the relationship. She was keenly aware of what she wanted the relationship with her daughter to look and feel like.

After a few weeks of the experiment, she and her daughter had four weeks left of life as they had known it. Her daughter was graduating and moving into a new phase of life. She was leaving home to work for the summer. She and her mom decided to go to lunch once a week for the final four weeks. They were really looking forward to it despite being at odds just a few weeks earlier.

In a family, relationships trump just about everything else. How we see people matters. Our stories about them and their behavior impact how we, as adults, treat them. It doesn’t take much to “shift” a relationship into calmer and more peaceful waters. I like to remember that it isn’t the big things that make relationships firm and comfortable. It is the small and simple things we do on a consistent basis.

Questions To Ask About Your Relationship with Your Child

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself about the relationship you have with each of your children:

• What is the primary conversation you have with the child? What are you talking about?
• What is the energy/mood between the two of you most of the time?
• What assets does the child bring to the relationship?
• Are there behaviors that block the relationship?
• What are you tolerating in the relationship? A toleration is anything that is draining your energy.

Now design an experiment to try something new. Remember that it is an experiment. You don’t know how it will turn out and that is OK. If you don’t get the result you want, design a new experiment. Like any good scientist, you will eventually find what works!

Share this exciting information with those you care about. Not everyone knows they can experiment.

Want your kids to Succeed in College? Let them play!

Intriguing title isn’t it.

I read an article comparing play-based curriculum with skill-based curriculum but what I found interesting were the points it made about the value of play for all children and the benefits of play-based curriculum, for those children who are in the public school realm.

In the world of education, there seems to be a bit of controversy about letting children play, when, where, how much, and with what. I think that is partly due to the end-driven results that we adults seek. We let our children play but what is the end result, what is the purpose. No willy-nilly free play for our children. And for goodness sake don’t play too long or too loud or too messy or too…

Coming from a far different era I am often amazed at this thinking. I cannot tell you all the days that I spent aimlessly playing, by myself, or with a gaggle of friends of mixed ages. No one ever thought a thing about it.

I wrote an article about the power of play in helping a child build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept, and cognitively flexible brains. I loved this quote. “For most of human history, children played by roaming near or far in packs, large and small. Younger children were supervised by older children and engaged in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats, and heroes. But, while all that play might have looked a lot like time spent doing nothing much at all, it actually helped build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. That describes my era perfectly and the value we gained from this freewheeling play.

Let me share some of the insights from the article with you because I think you will find them interesting too. I hope they get you thinking about your children’s need to play, in order to learn important skills.

Every day where we work, we see our young students struggling with the transition from home to school. They’re all wonderful kids, but some can’t share easily or listen in a group. Some have impulse control problems and have trouble keeping their hands to themselves; others don’t always see that actions have consequences; a few suffer terribly from separation anxiety. We’re not talking about preschool children. These are Harvard undergraduate students whom we teach and advise. They all know how to work, but some of them haven’t learned how to play.”

“If you want your child to succeed in college, then play-based curriculum is the way to go. Why do this? One of the best predictors of school success is the ability to control impulses.” (Isn’t that exactly what I said in my article on executive function?)

“The beauty of a play-based curriculum is that very young children can routinely observe and learn from others’ emotions and experiences. One randomized, controlled trial had 4- and 5-year-olds engage in make-believe play with adults and found substantial and durable gains in the ability of children to show self-control and to delay gratification. Countless other studies support the association between dramatic play and self-regulation.” (I might mention here that in my opinion, child-initiated play without adults would cause even more substantial gains than adult-directed play!)

“Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment.”

“As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores. But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning. It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas. In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.” (I say, they know how to think!)

“For a five-year-old, this connection begins and ends with the creating, questioning, imitating, dreaming, and sharing that characterize play. When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world. By the time they get to college, we will have denied them the opportunity to fix the world too.”

So, when you are considering how to let your children spend their time, think deeply about play. Think about what toys and materials accentuate play. Observe your children when they play. Consider the effects of video and television on play. Make time for plenty of play. Ask for spiritual guidance as you make your decisions about play. For me, reading this article on the importance of play reaffirmed what I knew as a child.

It seems that play is the stuff effective adults are made of!

Encouraging Creativity and Creative Thinking in Children

“When art teacher Kandy Dea recently assigned fourth graders in her Walnut, Iowa, classroom to create a board game to play with a friend, she was shocked by one little boy’s response: He froze. “While his classmates let their imaginations run wild making up colorful characters and fantasy worlds, the little boy repeatedly said, “I can’t think of anything,” Ms. Dea says. Although she reassured him that nothing he did would be judged “wrong,” he tried to copy another student’s game, then asked if he could make a worksheet instead. She finally permitted him to make flashcards with right-and-wrong answers.

“Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans’ scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that’s considered a benchmark for creative thinking.”

The above story and test results came from an article in the Wall Street Journal on December 15, 2010, A Box? Or A Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative.  I am not particularly interested in test results, and I don’t place a lot of credence on tests themselves. However, as a mom, grandmother, and teacher, I have certainly seen this trend. Some children seem to have more difficulty being creative now than when I was a kid.

Some researchers feel that the growing amount of time children spend on screens has decreased their ability to be creative and to enjoy playtime. Others think that children today have as much creativity as ever but that public schools get a D in encouraging it. The belief is that schools are doing an inferior job of encouraging and supporting creativity in children.

As parents, it would be good to have some ideas about supporting and encouraging our children’s creative thinking. Right? I have to laugh at that. In my day, what our parents did to encourage and support our creativity, was to send us outside and say “go play,” and we did. We had a lot of creative play. We made up games, invented terrific machines, made mud cakes, ran and skipped and hopped and created jump rope games, etc. That is how my parents did it. But today is a new day, a new time, so here are some ways you can encourage creative thinking.

Five Tips to Encourage Creativity

Tip 1 – Solving problems is a way to practice and encourage creativity.
Have family councils. Let your children in on problems that need to be solved. Allow them to voice their ideas. Listen to them with respect. Avoid the tendency to decide that their answers are wrong or silly, or naive. On the contrary, you may be surprised at what great ideas they come up with. I might also add that when answers to problems come from the children in the family, they are much more on board with putting the ideas into practice.

Maybe in your family council, you mention that your elderly neighbor is sick and needs help. What can you do to help her? Your children might volunteer to shovel her walks, water her yard, or sit with her and read; things they might not be willing to do if the idea came from you.

In your council, you might mention that you aren’t sure that you can save enough money for the annual trip to the family reunion, and you wonder what ideas they have to solve the problem. Some may suggest jobs they can do for neighbors, allowance money they can save and donate to the cause, or heaven forbid, they might even be willing to cut off cable for a while. LOL

Tip 2 – Thinking, discussing, and voicing an opinion are ways to encourage creative thought.
Have “mini-conversations” with your children about current events, historical events, books that you are reading. Don’t dumb it down for your children. Make your open-ended questions and comments age-appropriate but dare to talk to your children about things that matter. Even four-year-olds have a viewpoint on what happens in their world.

Tip 3 – Listening to your children’s ideas and valuing them as worthwhile is a great way to encourage creativity in your children. It gives them the courage to keep on thinking.

Refrain from judging your kids’ ideas. I think about Connor, the science-loving kid who started Connors Kits for Kids, an online company that makes kid-friendly science kits for kids. When all he was interested in was science, his parents didn’t freak out. They didn’t think, “Oh my gosh, he has to learn math and reading.” Instead, they came on board with his interest, and he and they bought a lot of science kits. Then, when Connor decided that most kits were not worth the money and wanted to find a way to provide great kits for kids that worked, his parents listened and helped him figure out how to do it. He was in fourth grade!

Tip 4 – Children are naturally creative in their play. Let them play, and amazing results happen.
I loved this example of encouraging children’s creativity from the Wall Street Journal article. “When Maureen Dougherty’s three kids were small, she and her husband Brian encouraged them to make up their own lyrics and dances to nursery rhymes, says Ms. Dougherty, of Stephens City, Va. Hearing Mr. Dougherty and the kids laughing one night, years ago, Ms. Dougherty opened the door to find them stumbling around with their eyes closed, singing original lyrics to ‘The Three Blind Mice.’

“After inventing spontaneous lyrics for years, their children, now 14, 18, and 20, enjoy public speaking and can think of things to say right off the cuff,” Ms. Dougherty says.

Tip 5 – Don’t focus on the outcome.
Adults tend to be outcome-driven, but for children, it is the process that counts. Creativity is in the process of doing. If it fails, then they will try something else if you don’t fall apart. Permit them to fail, and in the long run, they will succeed.

It is helpful to realize that if you raise creative children, they may not always behave like other children. They will feel free to talk, express their ideas; they will be bolder, more courageous. But, unfortunately, this way of being can land them and you in trouble. You will have to be brave and face up to what you have raised. Like me, you may get a pink slip from school stating that you’re 6-year-old is insubordinate. That experience made me laugh. Imagine six and insubordinate. And my grandson, Ben, is not your ordinary 9-year-old. He talks a lot about all the things he is learning. It annoys some adults.

I end with this delightful story from one of my own creative children, the insubordinate six-year-old, Jenny.

In the mid-’80s, flannel shirts were in. I sewed quite a few of them in my size. My six-year-old daughter Jenny loved my shirts and started wearing them to school. Of course, they were way too big for her, actually like a short dress. She solved her problem by pinning them at the neck with a large safety pin. Yikes, she looked like a street urchin; and yes, I had made some in just her size! I just said, “Oh well.” She had solved the problem to her liking and was happy with the result. She wore one of my shirts to school every day.

It wasn’t too many days later that I was called into the school to visit the teacher. She wanted to know if everything was OK at our home; was our money situation OK. (This was a small school, in a tiny town!) I got what was up right away and explained to her what Jenny was doing. The teacher was worried that the pin might pop open during playtime and that Jenny might get stuck. “Well, if that happens, I suspect she will change her wardrobe,” I responded. Jenny wore those ridiculous shirts for a few more weeks. Then she decided that they hampered her ability to play ball and other games, and her wardrobe did change. P.S. That fire dancer in the meme above is that insubordinate six-year-old who wore her mother’s flannel shirts. : )

Raising creative children is an adventure worth having.

Let other moms and dads know that kids who are not run of the mill grow into great adults.

Does Play Matter? More Than You Know!!

The POWER of Play

Parents and children’s brains don’t work the same. That statement won’t surprise any parent. Here is a story you will all relate to. Ted, aged two, hits Sally, age nine months. Sally begins to cry. You hear Sally and come running because lately, Ted has been hitting her more often. Hitting his sister is not ok, and you feel angry. You grab Ted by the shoulders, sit him in a chair, and for the 50th time yell at him that it’s not ok to hit his sister. Then, of course, Ted begins to cry.

In your mind, it’s evident that your grabbing and yelling are connected to Ted hitting his sister. You are wondering why Ted isn’t learning the lesson. You are angry and want this behavior to stop. That’s the message you intend to send. It might not be the best method, but it’s a reasonable message.

This is how Ted’s brain works, “Mommy’s angry, so she yells and hurts me.” Despite your well-intended message, the message Ted’s brain gets is that we yell and strike out when we’re angry. Unfortunately, there’s no connection between your yelling and the hitting of Sally, although, in your mind, it should be obvious.

My point with this example is not to discuss discipline issues but to show that children’s minds don’t process or see the same as our adult minds do. This is especially true in the arena of learning. Children and adult brains see or process learning differently. Children learn through play, which may look to adults like pointless, directionless, frivolous time-wasting.

“Many scientists believe play is hard-wired; a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains. NYT: Taking Play Seriously 2/17/08 

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, created in 1996, said, “If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.” NYT: Taking Play Seriously 2/17/08

“Parents bobble between a nostalgia-infused yearning for their children to play and fear that time spent playing is time lost to more practical pursuits. Alarming headlines about U.S. students falling behind other countries in science and math, combined with the ever-more-intense competition to get kids into college, make parents rush to sign up their children for piano lessons and test-prep courses instead of just leaving them to improvise on their own; playtime versus résumé building.” NYT: Taking Play Seriously 2/17/08

Decades of research have shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.

“Play is motivated by pleasure. It is instinctive and part of the maturational process. We cannot prevent children from self-initiated play; they will engage in it whenever they can. The problem is that we have curtailed the time and opportunities for such play.” David Elkind, Ph.D., The Power of Play: Learning That Comes Naturally. 

The temptation we have as adults, especially if we care about our children’s education, is to interfere with our children’s play, trying to make it more structured, directed, with meaningful outcomes—all with good intentions to enhance their learning experience. But remember, children’s brains don’t process the same as adults. Managed, directed, structured play ultimately becomes something other than play, and it’s play that our children’s brains really need.

“For most of human history, children played by roaming near or far in packs, large and small. Younger children were supervised by older children and engaged in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats, and heroes. But, while all that play might have looked a lot like time spent doing nothing much at all, it actually helped build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. But perhaps the most important is self-regulation— the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function — and its self-regulation element — is important.

“Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use, and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Unfortunately, play has changed dramatically during the past half-century, and according to many psychological researchers, the play that kids engage in today does not help them build executive function skills. Kids spend more time in front of televisions and video games. When they aren’t in front of a screen, they often spend their time in leagues and lessons — activities parents invest in because they believe that they will help their children to excel and achieve. And while it’s true that leagues and lessons are helpful to children in many ways, (researcher Deborah Leong says), they have one unfortunate drawback…when kids are in leagues and lessons, they are usually being regulated by adults. That means they are not able to practice regulating themselves. As a result, (Leong says,) kids aren’t developing the self-regulation skills that they used to.” Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control by Alix Spiegel

Please do not misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that we should allow our children to run feral, although more feral activities would probably do our children some good. I am also NOT saying that we don’t have a role in bringing some direction and structure to our children’s activities. Instead, I AM saying that we would do well, or more accurately, our children would do better if we resisted the temptation to manage their play, trying to make it more meaningful and directed so that we could feel better about their learning outcomes.

I hope you begin to have a mental shift about what’s happening in your children’s brains as they engage in play. Rather than feeling desperate or discouraged about their play and seeming lack of interest in academics, walk with your children as their brains and learning naturally develop and mature. As you walk hand in hand together, prepare appropriately to open doors along the way and do the work necessary to effectively invite and inspire your children to walk through. And by the way, it’s fine if they don’t. The door isn’t closed forever.

One other thing. A BIG distraction to play is technology. I mentioned it briefly above, but I want to repeat it. Kids will stay on screens for hours if we let them. The older they get, the less we can manage their screen time. But your younger children will do better if you have screen-free times during each day.

Here are possibilities to consider:

  • No phones at mealtime
  • No screens 30 minutes before bed
  • No screens for one hour after school time
  • No screens before school time
  • For young children, have set screen time, an hour or two a day

This Friday there was no school. My grands were on their screens the minute they woke up. But as the morning wore on, a friend came over, and the screens were discarded for spray bottles and an ensuing water fight. There was a bunch of laughing, running, noise, and commotion. It was fantastic to hear.

If we manage screen time, even if our kids say they are bored, they will find a way to play if we don’t bail them out. Give them time and ignore the pleas of “I’m bored.”

A reminder of why we want our kids to play and the long term value of strong executive function:

  • They will have a good working memory
  • They will have stronger cognitive flexibility
  • They will be able to control their emotions better
  • They will manage their behavior well
  • They will have better impulse control. Ever known any adults without this skill?
  • They will exert more self-control
  • They will have stronger self-discipline
  • A more well-developed sense of well-being
  • More sustained success in school

These skills help children grow into adults who manage well in the world. So, let’s make sure there is time and opportunity for unregulated and imaginative play.

Let’s let other parents know about the POWER of play!