Build a Sense of Belonging in the Early Childhood Classroom

By Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning About Me & You, Learning to Get Along®, and Being the Best Me series.

Build a Sense of Belonging in the Early Childhood ClassroomMr. Rogers was a strong advocate for children. In his much acclaimed and long running television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, he treated children gently and warmly and made them feel that they were a part of his intimate circle of friends. Mr. Rogers understood that a sense of belonging is a basic human need and that it is vital to children’s social and emotional development. He assured children regularly, “I like you just the way you are.” Mr. Rogers addressed the following three important aspects of belonging that helped children feel like they belonged to a community of caring people and that they were an integral part of it:

  • a place to go
  • something to do
  • someone to help

With these three aspects of belonging in mind, let’s take a look at what Mr. Rogers did and how we can help children at home or in a preschool setting feel that they are needed and valued and that they have a special place in our lives.

A Place to Go
Mr. Rogers spoke to young viewers directly as individuals, built up their self-esteems, and helped them feel that his neighborhood (and theirs) was a safe place to be.

We can get to know each child in our care and find an admirable quality in them to encourage. Address children by name and compliment them consistently for their achievements and efforts. Where possible, give young children calming touch, such as a pat on the head or shoulder, a handshake, a high five, or a hug. At school, have circle times where children can talk about themselves and their backgrounds to establish a caring network. In your home, you can hang pictures of extended family and tell stories about those people. Talk regularly with these family members on the phone.

Something to Do
Mr. Rogers introduced children to community helpers, showing children that all types of people and vocations play a part in enriching our communities. He enlarged their world by touring factories and demonstrating experiments, crafts, and music. From this, children saw that they, too, could develop important skills and talents and have something important to contribute.

We can assign chores to children or let them be “helpers” for simple tasks. In a preschool setting, give children time to share about their lives and interests and to feel that they are making a contribution. Invite guest speakers, take field trips, and plan classroom experiences that teach new skills. Expose children to a wide range of community helpers and these people’s roles. Let children know that the things they are learning and doing are also useful and important to the family or class.

Someone to Help
Mr. Rogers showed respectful ways to solve problems. Children saw demonstrations of kindness and of how to get along with and help others.

Praise children for their positive efforts, kind words, and inclusive actions that you notice. Be attentive in catching them doing nice things. We can prompt, teach, demonstrate, and affirm kind and gentle conversations, interactions, and ways to solve problems. One of the greatest ways to do this is by taking a positive approach using the “three-to-one” rule of thumb. If you feel that you need to make a correction, find at least three positive things that you can say to balance the one correction. Be specific in identifying and acknowledging those admirable behaviors. Make a point to include children who need extra attention. By loving children, including them, and sincerely caring about their well-being, you are also modeling to children how to treat others with kindness.

Try the following belonging activities to demonstrate how we all need one another and that each child fits in, is valued, and has an important role to play.

Activity 1: Making Our Mark
Materials: drawing paper or poster paper, ink pad, crayons or markers

Directions: Help each child draw a simple tree with branches (or do this step yourself ahead of time). Let children press a finger to an ink pad and use their inked fingers to make marks in different spots on their trees for each person in their families they want to include. Write in the names of each person. Discuss questions like, “What does your family do to show you they love you and that you belong?” “How do you feel when you do something together with your family?”

Variation: For a classroom setting, create a poster representing your classroom circle. Have each child add a fingerprint in a circle. Help children write their names under their prints. Talk about how fingerprints are unique, just as children are, and that each child belongs in the circle of your class. Discuss questions like “What are things you like to do in class?” “What is a way you like to help our class?”

Activity 2: “Who Does This Belong To?” Circle Game
Directions: Have children sit in a circle. Ask each child to take off a shoe and put it in the center of the circle. Choose a child to go to the center and hold up a shoe. Help the child ask, “Who does this belong to?” The child who owns the shoe will say, “It’s mine,” or, “That shoe belongs to me.” Then ask the group, “Who does the shoe belong to?” Children can answer together, “The shoe belongs to (name the child).”

The child in the center returns the shoe to the child it belongs to. That child can put on the shoe and continue the game by going to the center.

Discussion: Talk about belonging using the shoes as an example. Explain that things that belong to us are helpful and important to us. Tell children why they are important to you. As a family or class, you belong together because you like each other, you want to be together, and you help one another. Discuss how doing things together and helping one another can help us feel that we belong.

Activity 3: Which Things Belong Together?
Preparation: Gather items such as those in the following table. You may use the actual item, a toy version, or pictures. Note: Gather items that belong together based on the purpose of the items, not on how they look.

Build a Sense of Belonging in the Early Childhood Classroom

Directions: Put two or three items from the same category on the table along with one item that doesn’t fit. Ask, “Which things belong together?” Or prompt students by asking, “Which of these help us to (name category)?”

Discussion: Ask questions like, “Why do these things belong together?” “What do these items help us do?” Explain that although we are all different in some ways, we can do things together, work together, and help each other.

Cheri MeinersCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Free Spirit book series by Cheri Meiners:



Learning About Me and You

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Helping Students Be STARs: Bullying Prevention and Intervention

By William T. Mulcahy, LPC, NCC, CEAP, author of the Zach Rules series

Helping Students Be STARs: Bullying Prevention and InterventionBullying is a repeated pattern of hurtful behavior done by a person who has more power (physically or socially) than the person being targeted. Because of that inequity of power, many children are not equipped to deal with the emotional and social challenges bullying presents. The situation can seem very scary and uncomfortable not only for targets, but also for kids who witness bullying. But it’s these witnesses, or bystanders, who often hold the most important power of all—the power to stop bullying.

Studies show that the most effective thing a bystander can do is support the target of the bullying—by helping or being kind, not by directly confronting the aggressor. Thus, in order to help kids who are bullied and create environments where bullying is not tolerated, it is important to show children how to move beyond being bystanders to being upstanders—people who stand up to bullying when they see it happen.

Perhaps most important in teaching and supporting young students to be upstanders is to first be aware of your own history of experiencing bullying. One of my clients, a teacher, came to see me with symptoms of anxiety, unexplained fear, and paranoia. We discovered that the symptoms had begun over the last month after an episode at school where several students had been bullying a new student. Upon further discussion, it turned out that this teacher had moved several times as a child and had been bullied at one school to a point where she had to be hospitalized. She had buried the incident as she grew older, but had been triggered by the recent incidents in her school. While not every past incident of bullying causes such significant issues in the present, it is certainly something to be aware of as you deal with the tumultuous and complex dynamics of bullying behavior.

As a therapist, it is my job to treat clients and help them resolve trauma from bullying that occurred previously in their lives. It is the job of educators to provide students with both preventative measures and intervention strategies in regards to bullying behavior and how to be an upstander.

Regarding prevention, educators need to provide classroom environments that teach healthy interpersonal habits and social-emotional skills and give clear expectations to students and parents. Specifically, educators can:

  • Provide clear visual and behavioral messages that bullying in any shape or form, including cyberbullying, is not tolerated. Posters, reminders, and sayings such as be safe, be kind, be responsible can be very valuable.
  • Teach and talk to children at a young age about bullying. Children as young as four can understand the dynamics of bullying behavior. Creating a sense of justice in young children can instill in them compassion for others and a sense of empowerment.
  • Be welcoming of new students. Like the teacher from my story did, new students often experience bullying that is particularly cruel and damaging. Not only do these students have to deal with moving, sometimes for painful reasons such as a divorce situation, they also must deal with the burden of being bullied.
  • Stop gossip. Teach and reinforce communicating directly with others. Teach students to stop gossip by not passing it on.
  • Be on the lookout for students who may be targets of bullying behavior. Many students on the fringe lack self-esteem, seem out of place, or may sit alone in the cafeteria. Teach students to be on the lookout for peers who are eating or playing alone and encourage students to befriend these “alone” peers.
  • Teach and practice handling bullying behavior through written scenarios, video rehearsals, and social stories. Don’t be afraid to address all types of encounters.
  • Reinforce students’ positive behaviors. Many schools have built-in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which provide clear universal expectations and rewards for positive behaviors.

Even when teachers are being proactive, it is also their task to intervene when necessary with effective strategies that teach kids the important and difficult task of standing up to bullying behavior.

One strategy to help kids remember how to be an upstander is the Stand-Up-to-Bullying STAR.

Stand-Up-to-Bullying STAR worksheet Stand-Up-to-Bullying STAR
The Stand-Up-to-Bullying STAR is a four-part process that gives kids a specific plan for being upstanders in a way that keeps everyone safe and helps them stay in charge of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  1. Speak up—talk to the person being bullied.
  2. Take off—get the person away from the bullying.
  3. Actively listen—let the person talk about what happened.
  4. Report—tell an adult what happened.

Bullying thrives when kids believe they can’t tell an adult about it because they will be labeled a tattletale. This is one way that those who bully maintain their power and control over others. It is much easier to report bullying to an adult when you have an ally on your side.

Upstanders can do a lot for those who are targeted by continuing to support the target after the bullying incident is done and reported. Encourage kids to include children who are targeted in activities, to invite them to sit together at lunch or on the bus, and to continue to listen to them. Being bullied is painful and lonely, and having an ally can go a long way toward alleviating those feelings. It can also help in preventing future bullying, since kids who are perceived as lacking social connections are often targeted. Click here to download the Stand-Up-to-Bullying STAR worksheet to use with your students.

As part of my client’s recovery process, I asked her to reimagine how she would have liked to have responded to the bullying behavior those many years ago. During our work, she discovered that she did have one friend who rescued her on several occasions from the torment of the other students. Unfortunately, that student had moved away during the school year. My client firmly believed she would never have been hospitalized if her friend had remained at the school.

This realization was one of many powerful moments for this client, freeing up years of self- defeating thoughts and behaviors. Moreover, it helped her overcome her fear of dealing with the current bullying behaviors in her classroom. She became a powerful advocate for both preventing bullying and teaching students how to stand up to it.

Remember, it is these early and ongoing prevention measures and intervention strategies that can ultimately spare a young person a life of trauma and intense pain. With your help, instead of going through years of turmoil or struggling in a psychotherapist’s office, students learn how to create healthy relationships, adaptive coping skills, and habits for their health and well-being, including being an upstander.

bill-mulcahy-webWilliam Mulcahy is a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist. He has served as a supervisor at Family Service of Waukesha and as a counselor at Stillwaters Cancer Support Center in Wisconsin, specializing in grief and cancer-related issues. He has also worked with children with special needs. Currently he works in private practice in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and is the owner of Kids Cope Now, a program for providing books and tools to help kids in the hospital. Bill lives with his wife and family near Summit, Wisconsin.

Free Spirit books by William Mulcahy:


zachgetsfrustratedzach-makes-mistakesZach Stands Up

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#PleaseNotThemToo: Talking to Young Children About the #MeToo Movement

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

#PleaseNotThemToo: Talking to Young Children About the #MeToo MovementIt’s such an old song. If you’re a woman you can probably sing it with me: A man steps onto the escalator behind a female colleague and me. He stands uncomfortably close to me, but when we ignore him and continue our conversation, he begins to talk loudly about how ugly we are and how he wouldn’t date either of us. My heart pounds and my emotions swing between anger and fear, but I force myself to continue talking calmly to my friend until we make it safely inside our office door. Later that day, I post on Facebook about the incident using the #MeToo hashtag. The post begins, “I’m not using this example because it’s the worst. Far from it. I’m using it because it’s the most recent.”

When things like this happen to me, the skills I automatically call upon look a lot like the skills we teach children to help them deal with bullying. If I feel safe doing so, I call out the behavior. If I don’t, I get away as soon as I can. Either way, I tell someone else about it. And when my daughter and I talk about bullying or sexual harassment in general, and the #MeToo movement in particular, I help her reinforce those same skills.

One of the things the #MeToo movement aims to accomplish is to bring to light the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault. And it has done that with shocking effectiveness. It seems like every woman and girl in the world has a #MeToo story. That made me wonder how educators in countries with dramatically different sexual assault rates talk to children about the subject.

My friend Heather has lived in Denmark for over a decade. Heather, who is American, does social work in early childhood development in preschools and elementary schools. She is also a sexual assault and harassment survivor (from both social and professional settings) and, as such, is a staunch advocate of the #MeToo movement. Actually, she put it this way: “My feeling with regard to #MeToo was, ‘FINALLY!!’” She added, “I am ecstatic that this burden borne by so many is no longer done so in silence and solitude.”

I asked her what she would say if a young child asked her about the #MeToo movement, and she brought up many of the same points we use stateside in helping young children stay safe from sexual abuse. Use the real words, not metaphors, for anatomy. Use developmentally appropriate terminology. Teach children that their bodies are their own. Keep the lines of communication open. Ideally, start at a very young age.

#PleaseNotThemToo: Talking to Young Children About the #MeToo Movement“This introduction at an age when children are learning to communicate with words for the first time is crucial, since it becomes a part of their natural vernacular and gives them a sense of both autonomy and an understanding of their own bodies and how to communicate properly about them,” Heather says. “Children in our care are never coerced to hug or smile or to greet and/or talk with either other parents or the school staff if they show aversion to it. Their right to say ‘no’ is indoctrinated from the start.”

This frank approach to sexuality and autonomy works, and it’s not just research that tells us so. Heather’s statements confirmed to me that if we keep the lines of communication open and unembarrassed, if we help children learn to be assertive, and children know adults will help them if children need it, we will start to hear fewer and fewer #MeToo stories—not because people will start sweeping sexual assault and harassment under the rug again, but because it won’t happen as often. “We have relatively few sexual assault cases in Denmark when compared to the United States,” says Heather. It’s entirely possible that the way they talk to children in Denmark about sexuality and autonomy is a factor.

Heather says: “I believe wholly and fully that if the subject of sexuality is handled with the same respect and neutrality as other subjects are within schools, cases of sexual assault/harassment would both be fewer and more commonly reported when they do happen. It is vital to instill a sense of educated understanding about the body, one’s boundaries, and the boundaries of others before or if these become problematic issues later in life, as it paves the way for a much improved chance of clear, open communication about relevant experiences as these children mature.”

If the children are our future, we can have a future much less burdened by sexual violence and misconduct if we teach children about these topics the right way. We owe them no less.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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If You’re Learning and You Know It, Sing a Song!

By Amadee Ricketts, author of Gentle Hands and Other Sing-Along Songs for Social-Emotional Learning

If You’re Learning and You Know It, Sing a Song!Singing is a wonderful tool for learning, reinforcing concepts, and creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere in your home, library, or classroom. Music also plays a key role in developing pre-reading skills in young children.

There are lots of simple ways to incorporate singing into your daily routine, even if you don’t think of yourself as musical. This post includes practical tips for singing with the little ones in your life and some good reasons to give it a try. Any day is a good day to get caught singing!

What’s So Special About Singing?
Do you know your ABCs? How about “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”? If you answered yes to one or both, you are living proof of the deep connection between music and memory.

Hearing a familiar song often brings back memories of what was happening in your life when you first learned the tune. The flip side is that rhythm and melody can help new ideas “stick” in your memory. Commercial jingles are a good example of this effect, and the alphabet song is another.

When you first learned the alphabet song, you had no concept of alphabetical order. Learning the letters along with the tune helped you get familiar with the idea, but it also helped you learn the specifics. Even now, thinking of the tune is probably the easiest way to remember the order of the letters.

Try answering the following questions as fast as you can:

  • Which comes first, Y or W?
  • How many letters fall between N and R?

If you found yourself singing or thinking the alphabet song to come up with the answers, you are in good company.

Music is especially valuable for young children. Research shows that along with teaching new concepts and vocabulary, singing helps preschool children hear and differentiate between the smaller sounds in words, which is an important pre-reading skill (Degé & Schwarzer, 2011). Rhymes also build this skill. Many children’s songs rhyme, which boosts their effectiveness as learning tools.

Clearly there are good reasons to sing with young children.

Getting Started
Having said all that, what if you just don’t feel comfortable singing? Maybe you didn’t grow up in a musical environment or are self-conscious about your voice. You are not alone; many adults feel the same way.

If you don’t think you like singing, the bad news is that playing recorded music (which can be wonderful in its own way) is not a great substitute. Playing a CD or an MP3 doesn’t give you the flexibility to adapt a song for your child or group, and it does not provide the same kind of bonding experience you create by singing together. Finally, research shows that young children learn best through in-person interaction rather than media (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016).

The good news is that the young children in your life enjoy hearing your voice just because it is yours, and they can get all the benefits of singing together even if you can’t carry a tune. All it takes is a few simple building blocks and a willingness to be (and sound) a little bit silly.

If the thought of singing with a child or group makes you nervous, try these simple exercises to build your confidence and get used to the sound of your own voice:

  • Sing along with the radio when you are alone in the car, or sing to yourself in the shower. Don’t worry about mastering any particular song, just get used to singing out loud.
  • If you have trouble remembering the words or just want to focus on sounds, try singing nonsense words or syllables to a familiar tune. For instance, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is hilarious if you replace all the words with noodle. Give it a try!

If You’re Learning and You Know It, Sing a Song!Next, choose a few familiar songs and get comfortable singing them. There are thousands of wonderful songs written for children. Thinking about all those choices can be overwhelming, so focus on a few titles (three to five) that can be used in a variety of settings. Some favorites include:

  • the alphabet song
  • “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
  • “Old MacDonald”
  • “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
  • “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”
  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”

When you jump in and start singing with kids, their enthusiasm will carry you along. If things don’t go according to plan, play up the silliness and keep rolling.

Now for the Fun Part!
Singing can add interaction and movement to your day, your storytime, or your classroom.

One way to make the most of a small repertoire of songs is to make a song cube. Simply take a squarish box (or make one from tag board) and put a picture representing a song on each side. Use the cube like a die, and roll it to determine which song to sing. If you have a small enough group, children can take turns rolling the cube.

When you are ready to mix things up a bit, try singing familiar songs in new ways. Singing faster or slower, changing the words to include children’s names, or leaving out selected words can get kids excited about music and help them hear the songs (and their component parts) in fresh ways.

Using specific songs at set times helps establish positive routines and eases transitions. Having a hello song, a cleanup song, and a get-your-wiggles-out song creates friendly and positive ways to move through the day. This also gives young children a chance to demonstrate what they know.

In Closing
One of my favorite memories of using music with kids is from a library storytime a couple  years ago. The topic was feelings, and we were about to sing, “You Are My Sunshine.” As I introduced the song, a little girl who was usually very quiet piped up, “My daddy sings that song to help me go to sleep.” Her dad wasn’t the person who brought her to the library that day, but you could tell by her smile that thinking of the song made her feel like he was right there with her. She gave herself a little hug as she talked, and I admit that I teared up a little and had to pause before we started to sing.

Singing has clear developmental benefits, and it can be a useful teaching tool. But the very best thing about singing with children is helping them create those kinds of special moments and memories. Years from now, when that little girl from storytime is grown up, I bet hearing “You Are My Sunshine” will still bring that same smile to her face.

You can create musical memories for the special kids in your life starting today. Get caught singing!

To read more about the power of singing with kids, you may want to read this School Library Journal article by Sarah Bayliss: “Why Your Library Needs Music.” The article includes links and lists to tons of additional resources.

American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. “Media and Young Minds.” Pediatrics 138, no. 5 (October 2016).

Degé, F., & Schwarzer, G. “The Effect of a Music Program on Phonological Awareness in Preschoolers.” Frontiers in Psychology 2, no. 124 (June 20, 2011).

Greensfelder, L. “Study Finds Brain Hub That Links Music, Memory and Emotion.” UC Davis (February 23, 2009).

Jenkins, Tiffany. “Why Does Music Evoke Memories?” BBC (October 21, 2014).

Amadee RickettsAmadee Ricketts received her MLS degree from the College of St. Catherine and has been a librarian since 2002. She is currently the library director at the Cochise County Library District in Arizona. When not working or writing, she enjoys taking photos of insects and other tiny things. She lives with her husband, who is a photographer, and their cat.


Gentle HandsAmadee is the author of Gentle Hands and Other Sing-Along Songs for Social-Emotional Learning.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Endings and Beginnings: Setting Goals for Summer Success

By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens

Endings and Beginnings: Setting Goals for Summer SuccessAt the beginning of the school year, we encourage kids to set goals. But by now, most kids (just like the rest of us!) are looking forward to summer vacation. In the flurry of year-end projects, field trips, and final exams, goals may no longer be first on our minds. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a springboard for success—as these examples show:

  • As seven-year-olds, twins Emma and Amy Bushman attended a summer cooking camp. As teens, they founded Bake Me Home, a charitable organization whose delicious cookies brighten the lives of others.
  • Dylan Spoering, at age eight, wanted to do something nice for his neighbors one summer. The result? A free front-porch concert that went viral, giving him a taste of what it might be like to achieve his goal of becoming a musician.
  • Maya Peterson, at age ten, used her summer break to attend a conference and further her goal of learning how to be wise with money. Now at age fifteen, she’s the author of a book focused on helping other kids learn how to become “early bird” investors.

Those are summers well spent! But how do you turn your I’m-on-vacation kids into successful goal getters? Here are five simple steps.

Step 1: Celebrate
Did your child get a better-than-expected grade on an exam? Develop a new skill? Help someone in need? Stand up to bullying? Overcome a bad habit? Take several minutes and jot down as many of your child’s accomplishments as you can. Then, share your list with your child and, as appropriate, other family members, asking them to add to it.

When you have a list that feels worth honoring, invite your child to sit down as you read the list aloud, offering your congratulations and a few high fives along the way. A celebration may also be appropriate. How you honor your child’s success is up to you, but keep in mind that celebrations (and other rewards) should be:

  • Timely. Don’t delay or the celebration will lose meaning.
  • Proportional to the size of your child’s accomplishment. Being named to the honor roll warrants a bigger celebration than doing well on a weekly quiz.
  • Meaningful to your child. If your child loves thrills, a pass to a nearby amusement park may be just the thing. Other children may prefer something less extreme like a chore-free weekend or a chance to go fishing.

Step 2: Check In
Once you’ve focused on the positive, which helps build kids’ self-esteems and motivates them to persist even when things don’t come easy, it’s time to check in on the goals your child set at the beginning of the school year. One tool that can help is a Goal Check.

Like a postgame recap, a Goal Check helps your child (and you) determine what’s working, what’s not, and how to move forward. Begin by asking how your child feels about each goal and about his progress toward it. Ask open-ended questions such as, “Why was your goal important in the first place?” “What did you do well?” and “What could you have done differently?”

Also ask your child if the goal is still important. If not, give your child permission to let go of it and grab a new one. On the other hand, if your child still wants to achieve the goal, offer your support and encourage him to seek three important types of help:

  • Get-there help. Practical stuff that helps kids get to where they want to go, get-there help includes things such as access to sports equipment or carpools to and from practice.
  • Know-how help. This includes knowledge and skills that help kids accomplish what they set out to do—everything from how to fill out a job application to tips for taking better selfies.
  • Feel-good help. These mental and emotional pick-me-ups designed to help kids feel better about themselves include verbal and written compliments as well as quality one-on-one time.

You may also want to help your child determine what’s been keeping him stuck.

Endings and Beginnings: Setting Goals for Summer Success

Step 3: Brainstorm
Once you have a sense of what might be getting in the way of your child’s success, it’s time to tip the odds in her favor by encouraging her to set one or more goals for the summer. First, ask your child if she is still interested in going after any previous goals. If so, great. If not, ask open-ended questions to help your child identify other goals. Here are some of my favorite conversation starters:

  • What’s one thing you want to accomplish this summer?
  • What would you feel excited about being able to do in school next year that you can’t do right now?
  • If you could be, do, or own anything when you grow up, what would it be?

Your child’s goals don’t have to be as lofty as starting a charitable organization or writing a book like the kids at the beginning of this post. In fact, going for a too-big goal can be like trying to eat an apple in one bite. Instead, concentrate on helping your child set a right-size goal that fits her age, interests, and skill level.

Step 4: Get SMART
To increase your child’s chances of success, help him craft goals that are SMART. SMART goals are:

  • Savvy: Easy for your child to understand and use. (Construct my dream house out of paper and tape.)
  • Measurable: Define exactly what your child intends to accomplish. (Shoot 1,000 baskets a week.)
  • Active: Say what specific action your child will take. (Run a 10k.)
  • Reachable: Require work but aren’t impossible. (Even though my sister makes more than minimum wage, my goal is to get a summer job that pays minimum wage.)
  • Timed: Include clear deadlines. (Save $100 by September 1.)

Step 5: Start Climbing
Once your child’s goal is SMART, help her create a Goal Ladder. Just as a real ladder makes it easy to climb higher rung by rung, a Goal Ladder makes it easy for kids to climb toward their goals by breaking goals into doable steps.

Begin by asking your child what it will take to climb from one rung to the next. Once you’ve worked together to make a list of steps, cross out any that don’t seem useful. Then rewrite the remaining steps in logical order and assign a deadline to each.

Here’s what a completed Goal Ladder for finding a summer job might look like:
Endings and Beginnings: Setting Goals for Summer Success

Congratulations! Even if your child hasn’t reached the first rung—yet—he has done what all successful goal getters do: set a goal, put it in writing, and shared it with others. Now it’s time for your child to make steady rung-by-rung progress. Even small amounts of time on a task can add up quickly. Plus, completing a task builds motivation by releasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemical. High fives also help, as does praise from you and other family members.

The result? A springboard to summer success that will carry over into the new school year.

Author Bev BachelBev Bachel has helped thousands of get-to-it-later teens (and adults) become real goal getters. She set her first goal—sell twenty-five glasses of lemonade—at age five and has since used the power of goal setting to make new friends, buy a car, run a marathon, read a book a week, and buy an island beach house. In addition to writing and speaking about goals, Bev owns her own marketing and communications company and writes freelance articles.

What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for TeensBev Bachel is the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.

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