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Rules of Kindness with generationOn

October 21st, 2016
Here is a set of kindness rules that some Pleasant View Elementary School 4th graders created with their counselor Ms. Megan.  It’s part of a national movement with generationOn to get students to write rules of kindness for the their interactions with others.  I love the idea of letting students collaborate to write their own rules of kindness.  When they create and own the rules, they are much more likely to follow them!

Kindness Rules

written by 4th graders at Pleasant View Elementary School

1.     Look for others who need someone to play with.

2.     Say something kind to someone every day.

3.     Help people when they are feeling down or hurt.

4.     Be kind to one another.

5.     Encourage others.

6.     Be respectful to teachers and staff.

7.     Pay attention.

8.     When others are talking, be quiet and listen.

9.     Be nice to others – treat people the way you want to be treated.

10.  Make people feel welcome.

11.  Everywhere you go offer a smile.

12.  Be respectful.

13.  Do your best.

14.  Be caring to yourself and others.

15.  Be responsible.

16.  Take turns – let others play on the playground.

17.  Be on time.

18.  Show empathy for others.

What do you GET to do?

April 8th, 2016

A repost from our friend and colleague, Anderson Williams,

Anyone who knows me knows I can drop the occasional four-letter word. (I am perhaps being kind to myself here.) But, with a four-year-old and two-year-old at home, I pay more attention than ever to my words.

Surprisingly, it hasn’t been difficult to avoid cursing in front of them. It really hasn’t. But, paying attention to those words has made me more cognizant of all words I use in front of them. It’s sort of like eating habits: if you give up sweets, you end up paying more attention to the other things you eat too!

My four-letter-word diet has illuminated a much worse practice: confusing the terms “have to” and “get to”.

My habit first jumped out at me one day when I caught myself telling my daughters that they “have to” go to school (daycare, but we say school) on Monday. I stopped and thought: “what a terrible message!” My girls love their school. They love everything about it (except maybe nap time). We hear all weekend about their teachers and friends and the games they played in the gym. They love it. And, here I am sending the message, or at least emphasizing, that it is compulsory; they “have to” go.

No, my girls “get to” go to school, and they acknowledge that by their desire to be there. They also “get to” go because they are part of a family that values education, has the resources and flexible enough jobs to allow for the opportunity. They “get to” go to school for many reasons that we as parents, and they as children, should always be cognizant of.

I was so mad at myself for such a poor choice of words!

And then, I did it again!

My wife and girls and I were heading out of the house somewhere and I said: “first, we have to go grab some lunch.” Have to!? Really?

At least, this time I caught myself and restated – “First, we get to go grab some lunch.” We get to go to a restaurant. We get to be together. We get to eat a meal that we enjoy. To suggest we “have to” diminishes everything about the experience we were about to share, and moves emphasis toward some other event we “get to” do later.

There have obviously been countless other times I have failed in this word choice, and almost certainly there will be more as I break the habit. Just last week, I said: “I have to go vote!” But, breaking this seemingly simple habit is core to who I am and how I want to raise my daughters.

This distinction between “get to” and “have to” isn’t about decency or manners or appropriateness like we think about with four-letter words. It’s about privilege. It’s about humility, being thankful, being present. It’s about acknowledging your own experiences and opportunities and those of others. It’s about your approach to life, not taking things for granted.

So, bring on the four-letter words, but let’s please not pretend we “have to” do things that we really “get to”. That’s a pretty [expletive]-ed up message to send to our kids.

A Story of Youth Support

February 19th, 2016

Here’s a story shared with us by a colleague on how two youth started a simple act to support other youth:


Little Eyes See Everything

September 9th, 2015

We laughed as Heather shared what she had learned about herself from her nine month old daughter. Evidently, Heather says “mmm” after she drinks something. One day, Lilly said “mmm” along with her after Heather pulled the cup away from her mouth. Lilly next mimicked her mom when pulled away from breast feeding and said “mmm.”


This cute, funny moment was such a vivid reminder that kids are watching us at every moment – even as young as nine months! Yikes!


If that doesn’t send a clear message that we need to be aware of our words, actions and behaviors, then I don’t know what will convince us of the importance of our role modeling.


As Ann and I were writing Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we talked a lot about the importance of being the caring adult and creating spaces where youth can thrive. We challenge readers to look at their own attitudes, where they might fall a little short of their own expectations and where they shine. And, we provided stories and tips for really connecting and engaging with youth on a deeper level beyond simply knowing names and smiling at them.


As Lilly’s actions remind us all, they are watching and paying attention. We may not always think that’s the case, but it’s true. They are watching and they want to see that we really care about them, who they are and what’s important to them.


The question simply is: are we up to it? Are we living as caring adults and being the role models they’ll be proud to say they knew? The ones they knew loved them and believed in them? Or are they simply passing through our space without us alertly making the most of our time with them?


If you want to learn more about increasing your impact with youth and ideas on how to expect and bring out the best within them, then consider getting our book. It’s chock full of ideas for working with youth from the viewpoint of finding and building on their strengths.

6 Tips for Dealing with Conflict with Youth

August 26th, 2015

The book Building Developmental Assets in School Communities offers tips for dealing with conflict one-on-one with the instigator to help influence behaviors in a positive way. We adapted and expanded a few of their ideas included below:

  1. Use their name. This communicates respect and attention.
  2. Identify the inappropriate behavior. Stick with facts in this reflection—no shaming or expressing your own feelings. Don’t, for instance, say you were disappointed or worried, which only tends to add to the negativity.
  3. Indicate that the behavior does not match up with how you see them. Emphasize the good and the potential that you know is within them. In The Dark Knight Rises, there’s a scene where Batman asks Cat Woman, a burglar, to help people in the city escape. She responds by asking why she should help or get involved and declares that she’s not that good of a person. He responds by saying that she is stronger than that. He lets her know that he sees something valuable within her (even though she doesn’t see it in herself). In the end, she lives up to what he believes about her. Look for the good within. Mirror it to the young person.
  4. Ask them what happened. Indicate that you understand but that what they did was inappropriate. Give them the opportunity to share and think through their actions. Reiterate what is wrong and why.
  5. Model a different way. Ask them to show you an appropriate way to respond, a better way to handle the situation. If they get stuck, ask them if they want you to model a response.
  6. Encourage them. Always close tough conversations with a word of encouragement and thanks. Thank them for listening and express your belief in them to do things differently and better next time: “I believe in you.” “I know you can be the child you want to be.” “I’ve seen you make progress in this area, and I know you’re going to grow more and more.” “I care for you, and I will walk with you as you struggle with this issue. Know that you won’t be working on this alone.”

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Cultural Diversity and Youth Power

August 19th, 2015

Outwardly, I fit the blonde, blue-eyed barbie image. And yet, I have Cherokee Indian, Irish, and Scottish blood in my background. I found that out when I was in middle school. What did it mean that my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee? I read everything I could and told myself that it explained a lot about my natural inclination to liking wolves (I was in middle school – of course I made that kind of conclusion!).


Seriously, what does it mean to who I am today to have connections to three different groups of people? Fast forward to today and the increase in cultural connections – be that biological or the neighbors who make up your street or the friends your youth have on-line.


Our world is huge. Young people today have more opportunities than any other generation to reach out and interact with others around the world. Cities are changing. Neighborhoods are changing. And, our groups are changing. Various cultures offer opportunities to expand the world-view in our classrooms and programs. As adults running programs, we have to become more adept at juggling values and cultural norms.


And, young people have their own culture. They embrace the digital age and are often bi-lingual. Youth culture is also characterized by their interest in certain music, food, dress, language, and the arts.


What an opportunity to learn and grow! Ask them to teach you from their perspective and understanding. In our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we collected tips from colleagues and combined them with our own to provide ideas for guiding your work in today’s youth culture and its various identifying elements.


What is a “norm” of your family? Your generation? Your culture? How does it play out against other norms you encounter?


Words from Youth: Diversity and Acceptance

July 15th, 2015

“Respect my ideas and listen to me, even when they’re different.”

youth leader, youth development center in Nashville


Ask a young person how well you are doing in the respect department.  What about people that are different from you?  What about people with different ideas than you?  How could you be more accepting of youth around you?

The Power of Relationships

July 3rd, 2015

My friend, Rena, a referee, stood on the sidelines before a scrimmage, talking with a frustrated basketball player. She gave her some advice for improving her game. She explained in detail how important her role was on the court and why the coach had changed her position. She gave perspective to what was going on. Rena helped paint a vision and expectations for leadership for the girl’s role and how she could step up her game.


After her next game, the player sought out Rena and told her that she had taken her advice and had the best game she’d ever had and scored the most points she’d ever scored.


This quick moment is a great example of how a caring adult created a relational space, took a few minutes to listen, focus on the player, be real, and find her strengths. A mere 5-10 minutes of listening and sharing together can build a person up!


Rena simply took advantage of a moment, and turned it into something deeper. She seized an opportunity to show the player she cared and to offer encouraging words, actions and challenging ideas for making things better. The result? The player ran with it. She needed someone to listen, to care, to create a safe space for sharing and then she was open to feedback for making changes. That’s positive youth development in action!


To learn more about creating relational space, the value of listening and empowering youth to be proactive in their own lives, check out our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.



Have you had a passing conversation with a young person that you later learned was a bigger deal to them than you ever thought possible? Share with us!



9 Daily Disciplines for Practicing Happiness

May 20th, 2015
  1.  For every negative thing you say, you must state two positive statements to negate the bad juju and reinstate positive vibes. This tactic comes from counselor Elizabeth Parrot.
  2. Use visual cues to remind yourself to be grateful. Post a favorite quote someplace you can see it every day or put a string on your finger. Wear a bracelet on your arm to remind you to focus on good things. Every time you catch yourself saying something negative, move the bracelet to your other arm as a reminder to start again. Forgetfulness is often the force that blocks us from being grateful, so create a visual reminder.
  3. Use an inspirational daily reading or look at things that make you happy. Some examples are the comics, a favorite blog, stories of kindness, the sunset, or photos on Pinterest.
  4. First thing in the morning, before rushing headlong into the day, jump into gratitude and say out loud or in your head three of four things that make you happy. Name little things, maybe even the ones that you take for granted, such as hot showers, coffee, the coveted best seat at the coffee shop, or the fact that all your toes wiggle just as they should.
  5. Always note the smallest efforts and successes. As you start your day, you can probably bank on the fact that not everything will go perfectly. So, why not start the day by identifying five things you have control over. Examples include brushing your teeth, telling your children you love them as they go off to school, getting in a 10-minute workout at the beginning of the day, saying no to the extra donut. We aren’t perfect. Our days aren’t perfect. But there are gifts in each day and we have a choice: we can look for things to be thankful for, or we can disregard things that happened because they didn’t meet our expectations. If you choose to be thankful and magnify that thanks by acknowledgment, you create more of the very energy you want in your life.
  6. Use the words “happy heart” and “happy day” in your daily conversations to generate happiness and remind yourself and others to think about being happy. We often end phone calls and e-mails with “happy day.” And one of our friends uses “happiness” as her password to serve as a daily reminder.
  7. Refer to your journal for inspiration. If you keep a journal of improvements, growth, observations, and unexpected surprises, refer back to it on the hard days when you need a pick-me-up.
  8. Look for successes around you in your youth, colleagues, and even yourself. Be quick to tell your colleagues about little victories; they mostly likely need encouragement too.
  9. Listen to our Practicing Happiness channel on youtube.

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

6 Tips to Help Youth Manage Conflict

May 6th, 2015

As you model how to resolve conflict peacefully, consider these methods to talk through arguments when they happen.

  1. Pull aside the one or two people in conflict to a semi-private place for the conversation. You don’t want to embarrass or shame by having public confrontations. Shaming and making the young person feel uncomfortable won’t get you anywhere in promoting your cause for positive behavior and tends to do more harm than good.
  2. Use a quiet, calm voice. Reprimanding with a loud voice can fuel anger, frustration, or even bitterness, whereas using a quiet voice helps create a calm environment for you and the youth.
  3. If moderating between two youth, ask them to sit face to face and look each other in the eye. Ask them to talk directly to each other and calmly explain their frustrations. (Don’t tattle to the adult but talk to each other.)
  4. Encourage them to be quick to say, “I’m sorry” for a wrong, assumed or real. If they don’t think they’ve done something wrong, but the other person is convinced that an offense has been committed, encourage “offenders” to recognize and validate the “victim’s” feelings. For example, “Nathan, I’m sorry if you think I hit you on purpose. I didn’t mean to, and I’ll try to watch where I’m walking in the future so I don’t bump into you.”
  5. Remind parties to assume the best about the other person. Rarely is someone “out to get you.” Conflicts often happen from misunderstandings and conversations can often set things right.
  6. Once the conflict has been discussed, agree to move forward and move on. Let the conflict go and refuse to take it into the future. It’s done.

Learning how to handle conflict is tricky! It is not an instinct instilled at birth. Conflict resolution is a learned skill that needs to be practiced many times before it becomes second nature. Offer grace to your youth and let them know they can do it and that the skills they are learning will be valuable throughout their lives. Be patient. Keep in mind that in each situation, your purpose is to put the young person first and the results last. As you make it about them, the result you want to see will come.

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Resources for Teaching Tolerance

April 8th, 2015

Have you seen all the cool resources you can access from Teaching Tolerance?  Here is a sampling:

Racial Profiling

Defusing School Violence

Unequal Unemployment

The Motivation for Movement (immigration)

Progressive City Planners

Changing Demographics: What Can We Do to Promote Respect?

Freedom’s Main Line (segregation in KY)

You can find a full list of their resources at

Words from Youth

March 30th, 2015

“I need a neighbor who says “hi” to me even though we may be too loud or play in the street.”

youth leader from the Green Hills YMCA in Nashville


You might hear similar pleas from youth around you:

“I need a teacher who cares about me, even when I don’t make good grades.”

“I need a coach who will let me be part of the team, even if I’m not the best player.”

“I need a counselor who will believe in me, even after making big mistakes.”


Do you believe in the young people around you?  Do you support youth, no matter who they are?  How might you love young people from the inside out?

Quote on Inspiring Others from Emerson

March 4th, 2015

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One Strategy that Will Completely Change the Way you work with Young People

February 18th, 2015

Wanna change the way you work with young people?  Adopt what our counseling friend Jake calls “unconditional positive regard”, and determine that you will maintain that attitude no matter what.

Unconditional positive regard is a belief that no matter what happens or what is seen, this person (the youth in front of you) is good even if he or she has done terrible things. Even if the good isn’t obvious. Everyone has the capacity to do good. Your job is to believe that and offer encouragement to your group to cultivate it.

This is the attitude you commit to before you meet any child, during your interactions with your youth, and even after those trying moments when they walk away and you want to start grumbling and generalizing about “kids today.” It’s okay to get the frustrations out of your system  but always return to center: to a belief and hope in unconditional positive regard. This attitude will bring hope to your group and strengthen your efforts to see and cultivate the best in others.

How would this change the environment in your home, classroom or program?

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!