Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Empowering Assets-How This Blog Works and My Intentions in Writing It

Hello Folks,

I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that the Empowering Assets covered in this blog are based on the 40 Developmental Assets identified by the Search Institute, Inc. as being highly important to limiting high risk behaviors in youth.

Because I wrote each of the entries in order, they are listed here in reverse order here. Therefore, I suggest you go to the very first blog entry to introduce yourself to these important assets and to each of your communities wishing to empower youth and keep them out of harms way.

To help you to understand my intentions in writing this blog, here is what I wrote in my very first entry:

"Empowering Assets is a blog I have created to share articles I am writing on the 40 Developmental Assets identified by Search Institute, Inc. as conditions whose presence is counteractive to high risk behaviors in youth. The articles are being written as part of my work as a Prevention Specialist for Lewis and Clark County in the great state of Montana. The primary resource for the information in the articles is "What Children Need to Succeed" by Jolene L. Roehlkepartain and Nancy Leffert, PhD. It is my hope that other Prevention Specialists in Montana or any other state feel free to pass these articles on as written, modified or just get inspiration and ideas. To be particularly clear, I am not only comfortable with but encourage you to remove my name from any and all article and replace it with your own. Feel free to copy and paste and submit any of these articles in your local newspapers, school newsletters, church bulletins, local magazine or any where else you feel will do some good. I have joyfully done the work and now I want to contribute it as a gift to the spirit of prevention and the efforts of all of you, my prevention community. If you wish to contact me, email me at wmichael@rmdc.net or call 406-441-3970."

In the spirit of the 40 Developmental Assets, remember to take a second to make a difference with youth!


Will Michael

A Positive View of a Personal Future-Asset 40

A Positive View of a Personal Future

For children to have a positive view of their personal future, parents and other adults need to work to create a positive future for themselves and their children. If this happens, children will grow to be inspired to be positive and confident about their future.

Here as some specific suggestions of ways you as a parent can invest in establishing this asset for your children:

• Maintain a positive outlook in general. Expect good things to happen. When disappointments happen, learn from them and share with your children what the lessons and silver linings are. Children learn how to handle setbacks and challenges by watching the adults around them.
• Give children plenty of sincere, positive feedback. When you are supportive, you help them feel successful, build self-esteem and self-confidence. If they need feedback about mistakes or errors, start out your message with, “That is so unlike you. What can we learn from this?”
• Learn about affirmations. Affirmations are a way of complimenting that focus on desirable behaviors. Affirmations are positive, personal and in the present tense. “You are amazing at spelling!” or “You really know how to solve problems!” are two examples of affirmative messages. Affirmations are always free of negative wording. To use a negative word is to focus attention on what you don’t want. “Don’t spill your milk!” is a classic example of a negation that results in just the outcome you wanted to avoid.
• Look for and support ways to help children follow their dreams, interests and passions. Share their excitement about things they enjoy and discover. If a child loves music, fill your home with it. Ask your child to teach you songs and teach him or her songs. Sing along with the radio together, plan musical events and look for ways to provide music lessons and instruments to foster his or her learning.
• There are some children who seem to have a temperament that leads them to see things more negatively or pessimistically. These children are most in need of constant affirmation along with direct education on how thinking positively leads to positive outcomes.
• This next idea may have already come to mind as you read through the above. It is the point that in order for parents and adults to provide some the positive influences needed they too must examine their own outlook on life and the nature of their personal thoughts and attitudes. Parents will need to monitor their own self-talk in order to ensure that they respond to their children with affirmative and empowering messages about the present and the future. There are two books available by Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD. that can be very helpful for parents. The first is Learned Optimism which includes tools to rate yourself and practical ways to increase your optimism. The second is The Optimistic Child which gives step-by-step advice on how to safeguard children from depression while helping them develop optimism and a positive view of the future.

For more ideas on this topic, call or email me. And remember, your child’s future is influenced by the messages you are giving them now!

A Sense of Purpose: Another Positive Identity Asset-Asset 39

A Sense of Purpose: Another Positive Identity Asset

To invest in this positive identity asset, parents and other adults in a child’s life feel and show that their lives have purpose. Children are curious and interested in exploring the world around them. As they grow, they feel that their life too has purpose and they actively engage the world with their unique gifts and skills to fulfill their purpose.

Parents and adults should get in touch with what is important to them and then share this with the children in their life. For instance, you could do this by saying to children, “I walk every day to stay healthy. Walking makes me feel great and I keep doing it because one of these days I want to take a hiking trip through the mountains.”

If you are living your dream or have met some important goals, share your stories about the process from having the dream to making it come true. You could also examine or create a list of dreams or goals and share one with your child. Say you want to learn to fly fish or remodel your kitchen. Let your child be in on the process and observe or even help you follow through on making that goal a reality.

You inspire hope by being hopeful, and you inspire interests by being interested. Let your children see that you are enthusiastic about life. Talk about your feelings and what excited and inspires you. Plan with your child and show them how to make their dreams come true.

You can start early in a child’s life planting the seeds of a purposeful life. Make sure infants and toddlers can make choices about toys to play with or interests they have. When they show an interest, give them opportunities to explore that interest. If a child shows an interest in music, make musical toys and instruments available to them. If the child likes to put things together, get them building blocks, Legos, or Lincoln Logs.

Keep your child’s life interesting and stimulating. Find ways to include your children in things that you enjoy too. If a child is asking a lot of questions about something, take time to pay attention to them and give them honest answers to their questions. If you don’t know an answer, tell them you will find out for them or include them in your quest to learn the answer. This will tell them that their interests and purposes are important to you and therefore important to them also.

Create an atmosphere where children feel free to explore and discover. Some towns have centers just for this purpose. The local library is always such a place. Here in Helena we have the Exploration Works Interactive Museum. Most large cities have similar environments dedicated to a child’s need to explore and discover.

For older children, encourage and help your child set up an interview with an adult role model that they admire in your community. Help them develop a list of questions to ask based on their own desire to know the person.

So there are a few ideas. If you want more, contact me. Remember, there is no greater success than to have meaningful work and a purpose for living.

Self-Esteem: An Essential Positive Identity Asset-Asset 38

Self-Esteem: An Essential Positive Identity Asset

A person’s self-esteem is their overall sense of value or self-worth. Self-esteem is gained through the way a person is treated and valued in their formative years. Parents play the most important role in helping their children develop a strong, positive and lasting sense of personal worth or self-esteem. Parents do this by setting a good example and showing the child, through their own behavior, how a person with good self-esteem acts and interacts with others. Parents also do this by being affirmative, supportive and giving important positive feedback to the child.

Being critical, negative, calling names and hitting a child deter from a positive sense of self-worth. Parents often feel that these negative reactions to their child are for the child’s own good; not realizing that during the formative years children take such information as descriptions or definitions of who they are. When a parent repeatedly tells a child, “You are a bad boy.” The child doesn’t think, “Dad doesn’t mean that. He’s just trying to make me good.” A child’s mind is much more literal than that. They come to believe that they are bad, particularly in the absence of consistent positive messages about them. They then tend to become the definitions that adults put on them. We want to avoid that in every way possible.

Some of the other things a parent can do to enhance self-esteem in their children are:
• People with a positive sense of self-esteem take good care of themselves and express a healthy sense of self-love and respect. Consistently model this for your child and other children.
• Accept and appreciate children as individuals. Be patient, kind and supportive as your children learn and grow at their own rate.
• Learn about developmental stages of life so as to not be unrealistic in your expectations of your child. Learn what the stages of growth and learning are and at what ages children learn about such things as self-control, moral awareness, sensitivity to others’ needs, etc.
• Do things with children, not just for them. Although children love getting presents, the best gift you can give them is your time and attention. This behavior show them they are a priority in your life and that you sincerely care.
• Show your concern for all children by what you do as well as by what you say. For example, make eye contact with them when you talk to them. Smile. Take time to ask about their life and their interests. Learn how to use affirmations and be affirmative, complimentary and supportive in your interactions with them. Give them your full attention and let them know you care. For a strong sense of community, safety and security, this is important for all children with whom you come in contact.
• If a child does something wrong or inappropriate, focus on the behavior, not on the child. Remember that a child’s self-esteem is still forming and is fragile. Handle it with care and love. Don’t say, “You’re so irresponsible!” Instead say something like, “That’s not like you to do something irresponsible. Let’s talk about it and see if we can use this to learn something.”

These are just a few ways you can ensure that you are a source of positive self-esteem for the children in your life. If you would like more on this subject, please call or email me. Remember the words of the old song, “Accentuate the Positive. Eliminate the Negative. And don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”

Personal Power: A Positive Identity Asset-Asset 37

Personal Power: A Positive Identity Asset

Caring adults can sow the seeds of positive identity as soon as a child enters the world. While children grow, their sense of self needs to be cultivated and nurtured so they can learn who they are and what they can do. Adults around them can challenge, support, and guide children as they move through childhood and are on their way to becoming confident adolescents and adults. The first of the positive identity assets is personal power.

Personal power is related to a person’s ability to make things happen that they want to happen, to have a positive and creative influence on one’s surroundings and be able to meet challenges in a productive way.

Parents who demonstrate positive coping skills as they go about creating important outcomes and show the ability to maintain a sense of personal control in the face of challenges and frustrations are teaching their children healthy ways to deal with life. Parents with personal power also respond to their children so they begin to learn and experience their own ability to influence outcomes in their own life.

Here are some of the ways you as a parent can foster the growth of personal power in your children:
• Teaching personal power begins in infancy by responding to a child’s needs in consistent ways. If you know your baby is hungry, feed him or her. If they let you know they are wet, change them. This consistency and responsiveness begins to teach a child that they can and do influence the world around them.
• As they get older, let children play and do things their own way sometimes. If they enjoy looking at a book backwards and upside down, or want to wash and dry each dish one at a time, don’t interfere. Let them explore and learn some things on their own.
• Children have many different interests and talents. Encouraging and supporting them so they can follow their interests can give them a greater sense of personal power and influence over their life.
• Create boundaries that help children build their own sense of self-control or mastery rather than just follow the commands of adults. Make rules ahead of time so children can begin to work within them. For instance, when children know they are to finish their homework before playing, they are given the power to decide when to do their homework and thus have a sense of control over their ability to have time to play and do their thing too.
• Whenever possible given children choices in terms of what they want to do for things like weekend outings, movies to rent, or simple things like meal preparation. Respect your child’s decisions. If you don’t agree, talk honestly with your child about your concerns.
• Read about or watch movies about people who overcame difficulty situations and/or made their dreams come true. Emphasize the point that people can do great things when they set their mind to it and stick with a goal. Give your child the space they need to follow their own dreams, but also take steps to support and help nurture their efforts.

Again, these are only a few ideas around giving a child personal power. If you have questions or want more information, email or call me. And remember, personal power is the power of responsible choice; a freedom we all should have.

Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Part 2-Asset 36

Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Part 2

I wanted to dedicate another article to this most important asset so parents and adults can get more ideas of how to begin to instill the idea of peaceful conflict resolution into the children in their lives.

As I mentioned in detail last time, the first thing to do is to examine your own behavior when dealing with the frustrations of conflict and then educate yourself on ways of resolving conflict that are peaceful and compassionate.

Then its important to recognize that there are things we can do from the time a child is born into our lives to plant the seeds of peaceful ways to resolve conflicts and differences. Some of these are:

• Creating a calm, nurturing and loving environment is important in the lives of children from birth through adolescence. Make sure your children observe and hear adults solve problems in peaceful, mature and rational ways, not with shouting and angry words.
• Children can learn violent behaviors from movies, TV, and video games. Screen and/or keep a close eye on what your children are exposed to. If you are watching something together and there are scenes that are violent or harsh, talk to your child about these and ask them if they can think of better ways to resolve the conflicts observed if they were happening in real life. Offer your own solutions once they have shared their ideas of better ways to handle conflicts. Also, be sure to show sincere approval and appreciation for good ideas and attempts at better ways.
• Aggressiveness can be part of a young child’s nature. If this is the case, help the child explore and learn better, more positive ways to express their feelings. For instance, you could have him or her paint or draw a picture that expresses how they are feeling. Then ask them to discuss the picture and how it depicts what they are feeling. This also creates a great opportunity to teach feeling words if your child is having trouble coming up with the words that truly describe what they are or were feeling.
• Help youngsters learn the skills they will need to avoid being bullies or victims. For example, teach them to say, “No, I don’t want to do that.” And if that doesn’t work, teach them to walk away and get help from an adult.
• Teach children that words and calling names can indeed hurt someone. Ask them to think about and then talk about how it feels when they are called names they don’t like.
• Break up fights if they happen. While it is important to let kids learn to work out disputes on their own, it is still an adult responsibility to make sure they don’t get hurt or seriously injured from physical fights. Teaching basic negotiation skills can go a long ways in helping children to know there are other ways of conflict resolution. Knowing how and when to use simple phrases like, “Let’s talk about this,” “I think you’re right,” or “I’m sorry.”
• Teach kids directly that violence is never a good way to solve problems. Lead them in discussions of how to create a peace plan for dealing with conflicts. Teach them “compassionate communication” as taught by Marshall Rosenberg in “Nonviolent Communication: The Language of Life (www.cnvc.org).

Together we can make a difference and life just goes better when people know how to resolve differences and conflict in peaceful ways. Write or call if you have questions.

Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Asset 36

Peaceful Conflict Resolution

To invest in today’s developmental asset, parents and other adults need to model and help children learn to cope with frustrations and resolve conflicts nonviolently.

One of the first and best steps in modeling peaceful conflict resolution is to become conscious of how you behave when you are dealing with conflict and feeling frustrated or angry. Ask yourself these questions: Am I working to understand the other person’s point of view? I am working towards a positive or “win-win” solution? What am I teaching my child (or children) by the way I handle conflict? Do I need to know more about peaceful conflict resolution myself?

If the answer to this last question is yes, then a great place to start is the work of Marshall Rosenberg in his book, “Nonviolent Communication: The Language of Life.” Many people, including myself, have chosen to call this style of conflict resolution “compassionate communication” or peaceful conflict resolution.

Compassionate communication helps us reframe and organize how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on our awareness of what we perceive, feel, want and need. We are taught how to express ourselves with honest and clarity, while at the same time paying others respect and empathic attention.

In teaching compassionate communication, Rosenberg says it’s important to focus on four areas when trying to express ourselves to resolve a conflict.

The first area is Observation. This involves observing what is actually happening in the situation at hand without imposing judgment or criticism reactively.

The second is to State How We Feel when we observe the situation or action. Are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated, etc?

The third is to State What Our Needs Are in relation to the situation and our feelings about it.

Here is an example of how a mother might apply compassionate communication to an issue with her teen-aged son: “Kevin, when I see two balls of dirty socks under the coffee table and three more next to the TV, I feel irritated because I need more order and cleanliness in the rooms we share.”

The fourth component of the compassionate communication formula is to Make a Specific Request. In our example, Kevin’s mother might add, “Would you be willing to put your socks in the hamper or in your room?” This request suggests a result that would enrich the lives of all parties involved.

By learning this approach, Kevin’s mother (and parents in general) has a better chance of gaining Kevin’s cooperation. Also, Kevin (and other children) has an excellent opportunity to learn to communicate using a peaceful conflict resolution.

For more information on Marshall Rosenberg’s work, go to www.cnvc.org. Also, because I feel this asset is so important in the success and quality of a child’s life, I will be returning in future articles to give further suggestions for developing peaceful conflict resolution. Please email or call me if you have any questions or would like to know more.