Parents Do Make a Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts

Parents Do Make a Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts

by Michele Borba


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Parents Do Make a Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts by Michele Borba

For Teachers and Parents of Children to Age 12

Finally, a book that shows you how to teach kids the eightindispensable skills-self-confidence, self-awareness,communication, problem solving, getting along, goal setting,perseverance, and empathy-they'll need for living confident, happy,and productive lives. Filled with step-by-step advice, practicalideas, and real-life examples, Parents Do Make a Difference putsfield-tested tools into the hands of every parent and teacher whowants their children to succeed.

"The fact is this may well be the only book you'll ever need onraising great children."—from the Foreword by Jack Canfield,coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780787946050
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 05/28/1999
Series: Jossey-Bass Psychology Series
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 7.05(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author


Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator and award-winning author of twenty-three books. The mother of three adult sons, Dr. Borba is a contributor to NBC's Today show and regularly serves as a guest expert on talk shows including Dr. Phil and CNN. Her latest book is The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Follow her blog at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Positive Self-Esteem

Developing an "I Can" Attitude and a Solid Belief in Self

Four-year-old Jessica sat and sulked as she waited to be picked up from the birthday party. She had begged to stay home, but her mom made her go. "Parties are always stupid," she whined. "Nobody ever plays with me, and the games they make you play are dumb." By the time Jessica's mom drove up, her daughter was close to tears. "I'm never going to another party again," she cried. Her mom tried to console her, then went to tell the hostess she was taking her daughter home. "I'm so sorry Jessica had such a bad time," explained the other mother. "The other girls tried to get her to play the games, but she wouldn't participate. The games really were easy, but Jessica told me they were all too hard. It's almost as though she'd made up her mind she couldn't do them." Jessica's mom sadly shook her head. She'd heard the same comments about her daughter from other parents. "Why can't Jessica have fun like the other kids?" she asked herself. "If only I could help her believe in herself more. But how?"

    Six-year-old Yuri came barreling into the classroom on the first day of school full of energy and optimism. He was adorable, and he had a smile that made you melt. Motivated? Nothing could stop him! He excitedly explained to his teacher, "My mom says I'm going to learn to read this year. When do we start?" And with that he darted off to recess before the teacher could say a thing. "What an incredible kid!" the teacher thought, and then it dawned on her how equally incredible his mom was. Yuri,you see, was in this teacher's special education class because he had severe learning disabilities and an attention deficit. His mom knew learning was not going to be easy for him. She also wisely recognized that she could help soften some of the inevitable rough spots he would face in life by helping her son develop a firm belief in himself. The teacher could see that Yuri's mom's faith in her son along with the faith he had developed in himself would help him cope with his learning problems. He was a lucky little boy.

Regardless of what state or country I'm in, the question parents at my workshops ask me most frequently is, "What's the most important thing I can do to help my child succeed?" I have been asked the question so often, I decided to pose the same question to teachers attending my seminars. After all, they deal with hundreds of children and certainly know what helps students succeed. For the next five years I surveyed more than ten thousand teachers from coast to coast, and their number one response everywhere was, "Help children learn to believe in themselves." Scores of child development experts have reached the same conclusion. Simply stated: for our children to succeed, they must first believe they can succeed.

    Without feeling "I can do it," a child is gravely handicapped from succeeding in every arena: at school, at home, with others, at work, on athletic fields, and in life. With little faith in himself, the child will approach experiences with a "Why bother, I can't do it anyway" attitude, greatly minimizing his chances for happiness and personal fulfillment. The cumulative impact that an "I can't" attitude has on his self-esteem is tragically predictable: How can he possibly feel good about himself with so few positive experiences to affirm that he is worthwhile and competent?

    "I can" attitudes don't develop automatically; our children learn them, and the first place they learn them is from us. Clear-cut evidence shows that parents who expect their children to succeed and communicate the belief, "I know you can," produce children who do. Nurturing this first success skill is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child, because it is the foundation for healthy self-esteem and success.


This first chapter describes ways you can lay the foundation for your child's success in school and in life by helping her learn to believe in herself. You'll learn how to:

* Set expectations that stretch your child's capabilities and expand her potential, without snapping her confidence.

* Make your encouragement more enhancing to your child's self-esteem.

* Give evidence to your child that she is succeeding so that she can develop an "I can" attitude.

* Help your child develop a positive inner dialogue and reduce negative self-talk habits.

* Use positive practices of discipline that effectively change misbehavior while still protecting self-esteem.

* Turn negative, destructive labels into more positive, affirming ones that nurture positive images.


The statements below describe behaviors usually displayed by children who have developed a strong "I can" attitude. To evaluate your child's strengths in this first success skill, write the number you think best represents your child's current level on the line following each statement and then add all the scores to get his total score. If your child scores 40 to 50, he's in great shape with the skill. If he scores 30 to 40, he can benefit from skill enhancement. A score of 20 to 30 shows signs of potential problems. If your child scores 10 to 20, consider getting help to increase this skill.

5 = Always 4 = Frequently 3 = Sometimes 2 = Rarely 1 = Never

A child with a strong "I can" attitude: My child Sets high expectations for himself; says "I know I can do it." __________ Acts confident and self-assured. __________ Regards self as worthwhile and special. __________ Generally has a positive, optimistic attitude about himself. __________ Seldom says "I can't" or "I don't know." __________ Takes pride in his accomplishments. __________ Seldom is overly dependent on others for help; is never clingy or dependent. __________ Has confidence in himself and his abilities. __________ Is willing to try new tasks. __________ Says "I can" as a first response to any request. __________ Total Score __________


A child's firm belief in herself does not develop automatically. It must be nurtured and learned. There are four steps you can take to help your child develop positive self-beliefs. The first and most important step is instilling in your child that you believe in her and love her for who she is, not for what she does. The second step is learning to set the kind of expectations that stretch your child to try new possibilities without pushing her further than what she's capable of achieving. Because a large part of your child's beliefs are developed internally, the third step nurtures a positive inner dialogue that fosters strong self-beliefs. The final step is helping your child recognize that her success possibilities are unlimited once she develops an "I can" attitude. Following are the four steps to nurturing positive self-beliefs in your child:

    Step 1: Convey to Your Child, "I Believe in You"

    Step 2: Set Expectations That Enhance Success

    Step 3: Nurture Strong Internal Self-Beliefs

    Step 4: Help Your Child Develop an "I Can" Attitude


When our children feel we believe in them, they grow to believe in themselves. When kids doubt our confidence in their capabilities, they tend to lower their expectations of themselves and fall short of their potential. This first step shows how to set the kinds of expectations that convey to your child, "I believe in you!" and help him form a positive portrait of himself.

    Our children do try to live up to our expectations. We know that the first place children learn to believe in themselves is from their parents. Intentionally, as well as unintentionally, we continually send messages to our kids—through our words, our looks, and even our body language—that help form their self-beliefs. On the one hand, if your child interprets your messages positively—"Mom thinks I'm responsible," "Dad feels he can trust me." "My teacher thinks I can do it"—he will try to fit himself into that view. On the other hand, if your child thinks you feel that he won't be able to accomplish much on his own, he almost surely will begin to share your opinion and lower his expectations to accommodate your view. This step describes the kinds of proven routines that enhance children's positive self-beliefs.

Using Labels That Foster Strong Self-Beliefs

I waited anxiously to pick my young son up from his first day of preschool, hoping his day went well. As usual, he was first out the door and ran full speed to me, almost knocking me over with his hug. "It was fun!" he exclaimed, and I sighed with relief. He was always a bundle of joy and energy, and he could light the world with his smile. Unfortunately, not everyone described him using my positive term, sometimes substituting the word hyper instead.

    I noticed his teacher's eyes following my child. Her look told me she'd already chosen the second label to define my son—the last way I wanted his school year to start. Before she could say a word I quickly introduced myself and blurted, "My son just loves it here. Don't you just love his spirit?" She appeared temporarily stunned, so I quickly added, "I just hope nobody ever tries to tame his spirit. We need more people in this world with such spunk." I can honestly say I left her standing there speechless. I secretly smiled when we met again at our parent conference a few weeks later. Her first words that day were, "Your child is such a joy. I just love his spirit and energy!" I agreed with her, of course, and breathed a sigh of relief. She was seeing my child in the positive way I had hoped for.

    Sometimes parents and teachers unintentionally send messages that diminish children's sense of worth. One of the deadliest habits that chips away at children's self-confidence is any form of stereotyping. Nicknames like Shorty, Clumsy, Crybaby, Slowpoke, Klutz, or Nerd can become daily reminders of incompetence. They can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. Regardless whether the labels are true or not, when children hear them they begin to believe them. And the label very often sticks and becomes difficult to erase. Here are four things you can do to help prevent your child from forming negative self-images:

    1. Avoid using negative labels about your child, whether you are in front of him or with others. Labeling children with such terms as shy, stubborn, hyper, or clumsy can diminish self-esteem.

    2. Never let anyone else label your child. Labeling is deadly, but you can immediately turn any negative label into a positive one. Negative label: "Your son is so shy!" Positive new label: "Not at all; he just is a great observer."

    3. Avoid making comparisons. Never compare your child to anyone—especially siblings! "Why can't you be more like your sister? She's always so neat, and you're such a slob!" Making comparisons can strain a child's individuality and undermine her sense of self-worth.

    4. Refrain from using genetic labels. Labels can limit your child's view of himself. "You're as lazy as your uncle." "You're going to be poor in math like I was." "You take after your Aunt Sue; you're shy just like her."

    The box that follows shows how you can turn negative, demeaning labels into more affirming terms that help children develop more positive self-images. One good rule to remember about labeling is, If the nickname does not boost your child's feelings of adequacy, it's best not to use it.

Using Constructive Discipline

"I don't know how to get my daughter to stop whining. It's driving me crazy!" the father told me. "It seems like the only way Jenny knows how to talk."

    "What do you say to her to try to stop her whining?" I asked.

    "Well," said the father, "I tell her over and over, 'Stop whining. None of your sisters act that way.' I try to tell her how bad a habit it is. I tell her, 'You sound just like a crybaby, and nobody will like you if you keep it up,' but now she's whining more than ever! I swear she does it because she knows it makes me mad. Is there a better way to get her to stop?"

    All kids misbehave at one time or another. How we react to our child's misbehavior can be destructive or productive to their beliefs about themselves, and the responsibility of responding appropriately makes a parent's job especially tricky. Here are three simple discipline practices I suggested to Jenny's father to help stop her whining behavior. You can use these same practices to curtail almost any misbehavior and still protect your child's self-portrait.

    I Messages vs. You Messages. When you are not pleased with your child's behavior, it's helpful to declare your disapproval starting your message with the word I instead of You. Notice how just changing You to I turns the father's critical, judgmental message into one focusing on Jenny's misbehavior and not on her self-worth.

"You" message: You sound just like a crybaby. Nobody will like you if you keep it up.

"I" message: I don't like to hear you whine, because people don't like to be around whiners.

    Separate the Child from Her Behavior. Jenny's father told her to stop whining, but never told her how to express herself differently. He also belittled her by making the comparison "None of your sisters act that way." The right kind of discipline should help children learn right from wrong, recognize consequences, and discover how to improve the misbehavior, while still protecting their self-worth. The corrective message tells Jenny both what's wrong with her behavior and what new behavior her father expects. The message also focuses only on her behavior, not on the child.

Critical: Stop whining. None of your sisters act that way.

Corrective: I want to hear your thoughts, but say them without a whiny tone.

    Encourage Your Child's Attempts. Jenny's father was right to be concerned about his daughter's whining: her habit was certain to hinder relationships. By focusing only on Jenny's whining, he was not only failing to stop her misbehavior but also actually increasing it. Here's why. By being so critical, he was overlooking the times Jenny was trying not to whine. Although there were not many, there were still a few. Expecting her to change her habit all at once was unrealistic, and Jenny gave up trying.

    After we talked, the father recognized that he should acknowledge any effort—successful or not—his daughter made to improve. Doing so would help her believe success was really possible. He continued to encourage Jenny's efforts until her newer behavior of speaking without whining was locked in.


Table of Contents

Foreword Jack Canfield.

Preface: You Do Make a Difference!



Success Skill 1. Positive Self-Esteem: Developing an "I CanAttitude" and a Solid Belief in Self.

Success Skill 2. Cultivating Strengths: Developing PersonalPotential and Enhancing Individuality.

Success Skill 3. Communicating: Learning How to Speak Up, ListenAttentively, and Reduce Misunderstandings.

Success Skill 4. Problem Solving: Knowing How to Find Solutions andResolve Conflicts.

Success Skill 5. Getting Along: Learning How to Make Friends, Be aFriend, and Deal with Stormy Relationships.

Success Skill 6. Goal Setting: Targeting What You Want and TakingAction to Achieve It.

Success Skill 7. Not Giving Up: Encouraging Perseverance.

Success Skill 8. Caring: Increasing Compassion and Empathy.

Final Thoughts.



About the Author.

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