Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity


Young children love to sort things by color, or by shape, or by type (e.g. car or train?). They make sense of their world by seeing how things fit into categories. And in most cases, we encourage them to think about classifications – especially when it helps them to remember to put the Legos in the Lego bin, the books on the bookshelf, and the dirty socks in the laundry basket!

But, when they try to sort out categories of people: race, gender, ability, age, and more, we tend to get all flustered. We worry about saying the wrong thing, causing offense, creating prejudice, etc.

For example, consider our approach to racial differences. Children are very aware of different skin tones, even as young as 6 months. But when kids ask their parents about it, how do they respond? Most non-white parents talk openly and frequently about race. But research finds that 75% of white parents almost never talk about race – they often just change the subject. When well-meaning white parents do talk about race, they often try the “color-blind” approach and say “we’re all the same.” Which mystifies a young child who can clearly see we are NOT all the same.  If parents avoid a subject, or become awkward around it, kids may get the message that the topic is “taboo.”

How might our kids’ perception be changed if we instead acknowledge and celebrate differences?

Talk about Differences. When reading books, watching movies, or people watching, talk about differences easily and openly. Note different skin colors, ages, gender expressions, weight, ability, clothing / hairstyles, languages spoken, family compositions, and more. Use descriptive words / labels they can use, like Asian, gay, disabled, multi-racial – you can say this just as easily as you can say “look it’s a girl and a boy in that picture”. (As they get older, we’ll help them learn that no one can be defined by any one label. But, as they start to sort things out, talking about differences builds vocabulary and context for understanding the broader world.)

Be careful not to add in biased judgments or stereotypes when talking about differences: “She’s only got a mama, no daddy. That must be hard for her.” “He’s Asian, I bet he does well in school.” “She likes sports? She must be a tomboy.”

Talk about Commonalities. We shouldn’t ignore the differences and only talk about commonalities. But, once you’ve acknowledged a difference your child has noticed, you can also talk about universal needs and common interests. “You’re right, her skin is a different color than yours. Her ancestors came from a different part of the world than ours did. I saw you guys played soccer together for a long time – it seems like she likes it as much as you do.” “Yes, you have just me as your parent, and most of your classmates have two parents – sometimes a mom and a dad, sometimes two moms or two dads. But all of you get lots of love and snuggles, right?” “They wear those special clothes as part of their religion. We don’t wear special clothes, but we do celebrate special holidays because of our religious beliefs.”

Answer Questions about Differences. I have a visible handicap, and it’s pretty common for me to overhear a child saying “mama, how come that lady only has one leg?” Some parents ignore the question, change the subject, or “shush” the child. That tells the child this is something that is “not OK” to talk about. It implies that disability is something shameful or embarrassing to discuss, either for them or for me. Instead, when your child asks questions about differences, try these approaches:

  • Acknowledge the difference – “you’re right, and that’s different than what you’re used to.”
  • After acknowledging it, you could say “we’ll talk about it later” or you could address it now.
  • Give a simple answer to the question, it you know it: “Those are called crutches. They help her to walk.” Or, if you don’t know, you might say “I don’t know why she has one leg… some people are born without one and sometimes they lose a leg in an accident.”
  • Try to figure out how your child is feeling. If they’re simply curious and wanting to learn something, then answer the question they asked. If you sense there’s any fear or discomfort for them, make some guesses about what that is and address it.

Actively expose your child to other perspectives: Eat at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural festivals, visit museums which focus on other cultures, read books and see movies from many countries, learn bits of other languages. Seek out multi-generational communities – make friends with people of all ages. Connect with queer families. Attend public events hosted by faith communities. Choose to live in a diverse neighborhood and/or attend a diverse school.

Choose children’s books which teach about diversity. Look here for info on how to evaluate books (and other media): http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books and here for recommended books www.childpeacebooks.org/cpb/Protect/antiBias.php

Talking about Inequity. In the early years, we can focus on building an appreciation for, and understanding of, a wide variety of differences.

As they get older (around early elementary school), then we add in that even though people may be different, we all have the same rights and deserve the same fair treatment.

As they get even older (by age 8 to 10), we can refine that into “we should all have the same rights and opportunities, but we don’t. What can we do together to help increase everyone’s access to the same opportunities?”

And with teens, we can add in discussion of systemic oppressions – classism, ableism, homophobia, and so on. If you think you can skip these discussions, you likely are coming from a place of privilege. As a white parent, I can choose whether or not to talk about this. If my kids had brown skin, it wouldn’t be an option to not talk about it. Check out this article on how white parents talking about racism can help their kids support friends of color: www.scarymommy.com/black-child-friends/

In an increasingly diverse society, the more we try to pretend racism and sexism and such are things of the past, the more we allow them to persist. Having open and honest conversations about diversity will help us work together toward a more equitable society for all.

Learn more: Even Babies Discriminate – excerpt from Nurture Shock: http://mag.newsweek.com/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html; Teaching Young Children to Resist Bias, from NAEYC: www.cccpreschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Teaching-Children-to-Resist-Bias4.pdf; What White Children Need to Know About Race: http://www.nais.org/magazines-newsletters/ismagazine/pages/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race.aspx


Summer Concerts and Plays

Kitsap Forest Theatre, www.foresttheater.com/

Kitsap Forest Theatre, http://www.foresttheater.com/

My last post was about summer movies in the Seattle area. Today’s is about concerts, outdoor theatre and other live entertainment for summer 2016. Most of these shows are free (but please give optional donations when the pass the hat, so they can keep offering them!!)

Concerts: Red Tricycle has already assembled this great Guide to Free (and Cheap) Summer Concerts. It includes info about kid-friendly concerts at the Ballard Locks, the zoo (not free), Issaquah’s Spring Free trampoline, U Village, downtown Seattle, Seattle Center, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Kirkland, Issaquah, Sammamish, Everett, Kenmore, Redmond, and Tukwila.


Most of the shows on here (though not Shakepeare’s tragedies… ) are good for ages 7 or 8 and up. We have brought a toddler / preschooler, but with lots of snacks, toys and sticker books to entertain him quietly, then we take him over to the wading pool or playground before or after the show.

Wooden O is doing Hamlet and Love’s Labours Lost. In Bellevue, Edmonds, Issaquah, Lynnwood, Mercer Island, Seattle,

Greenstage Shakespeare in the Park is performing Cymbeline and Merry Wives of Windsor this year; their smaller scale Backyard Bard performances are of Pericles and Twelfth Night. Season runs July 8 – August 13 at multiple parks in Seattle, plus Lynnwood, Maple Valley, and Fall City.

July 9 and 10 is the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival in Volunteer Park in Seattle, which features performances from Wooden O and Greenstage (see above) plus Last Leaf, Theatre Schmeater, Jet City Improv, 14/48 projects, and Young Shakespeare Workshop. Our favorite for years has been Jet City Improv’s Lost Folio, where they improve Shakespeare (yes, dialect and all) based on suggestions from the audience.

Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theatre is doing Beauty and the Beast. July 23 – August 21. $10 to $20. Ages 5 and under free. Can combine nicely with a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls.

Kitsap Forest Theatre (near Bremerton) is doing Little Mermaid. (They did the Music Man on the weekends from Memorial Day to Father’s Day.) July 30 – August 21. $10 – 20, 6 and under free.

Leavenworth Summer Theatre is presenting Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, and Beauty and the Beast. $14 – 32.

Outdoor Trek. Each year, they perform live an episode of Star Trek The Original Series. This year will be Space Seed (where we first meet Khan). For those of you who have gone in the past, and roasted in the sun during the performance, it’s good to know that all shows start at 7 pm this year so we can sit in the shade.

Library Summer Reading Programs

Seattle Public library programs for kindergarten to grade 5 kids include Scribble Machines, stories about Anansi the Spider, writing a picture book, making candy, learning circus skills, math in the music, creature feature from Pacific Science Center, and Little Critters from the Woodland Park Zoo. Locations throughout Seattle.

King County library programs for age 3 – 12 include concerts by Nancy Stewart, the Exercise Everything Show, Bing Bang Boom show, games you can’t lose magic show, Team Tales, The Magically Ridiculous Game Show, and more. Locations throughout King County, including lots in the south part of the county.

Financial Literacy


On Sunday, I was teaching a class to a group of 9 – 10 year olds. We were talking about the roles that need to be played by various family members to help the family life run smoothly. I happened to mention something about paying the bills so that the lights and the phone stay on. Multiple kids were shocked to realize that this is something their parents do that they were not even aware of.

It made me think of the changes in financial awareness over the generations. When I was a kid, actual paychecks came to the house, and I went with my parents to the bank to deposit them, and then I saw my parents at home at the kitchen table writing checks for the bills, and mailing them, or if they didn’t get it in the mail on time, then we would go to the utility company’s office to drop off the payment. When we went to the store, my parents sometimes paid by check, but more often we paid in cash. You could see how much things cost by how many bills got counted out and handed over. Mom often had a handful of coupons with her at the store, that I had helped her clip. Money was a physical object and our financial life had a visible presence in our house.

That’s very different from my five year old’s experience. Our paychecks are automatically deposited, many of our bills are auto-paid while we sleep. When we do financial record-keeping, our child just sees us sitting at the computer – for all he knows, we’re working, or sending emails to family members, or playing pinball – all things he knows we do on the computer. We go to the store rarely, as we order groceries online and have them delivered, and also order many of our consumer goods online and as far as he knows, they just magically appear at the house. When we do go to the store, I just pull out a card and there’s no clear indication to him whether I’m paying a lot or a little for what we buy (or where the money to buy something came from). He’s never seen me use a paper coupon or drive across town for a sale. (Rather than trying to save money on stuff I buy, I just try to buy less stuff… or I buy used.)

So, I’ve realized that just as parents need to think about literacy in terms of reading, and math literacy, and emotional literacy, it’s also worth thinking about financial literacy. It’s hugely important for their long-term success and stability, and could be considered part of their “college prep”:

While obtaining a college degree is associated with higher earnings, studies also show that people who earn more also tend to spend more. And if those college-educated high earners spend beyond their means, they’ll end up suffering the same [financial] problems as those who never graduated from high school. (source)

So, how do we build financial literacy? What are the money-world equivalents of teaching the ABC’s, then how to read a Dr. Seuss and then on up to literary critique in high school? This post is full of ideas of where to start teaching your child about money, and what to teach them. I will often share my personal decisions about how to handle this, but that’s not because I think it’s the one right way – it’s just so you have an example of how one family has made these decisions. You should do what is right for your family! I’ll also offer tips from other sources.

Physical Manipulables: When we’re building pre-literacy skills with children, we give them alphabet puzzles and magnetic letters to stick on the fridge. To build money literacy, it helps if they can handle actual physical money. As soon as they’re past the mouthing stage, they can be given coins to play with, to practice counting, and to use in pretend play. Once they’ve mastered simple counting of pennies, you can teach that ten pennies is the same thing as a dime. Equivalency is both a great money skill and a great math skill. Later in pretend play, you could charge a specific amount and have them make change.

Let them help you count real money for real purchases: When I go to McDonald’s, I know a drink will cost $1.10, so even before I go to the counter, I can have my child help me count out this much money. At the farmer’s market, I can see that the berries will cost $3, so he can help me count that out. At soccer, when we buy a bracelet for the bouncers(which we do often, so the staff knows us), I give my five year old cash, and he goes to the counter to buy it. Before he goes, I ask him if he need to wait for change or not.

You can also take your child grocery shopping, and encourage them to do price comparisons – “how much is this one per serving vs. this one? This is on sale… but, that doesn’t mean we should buy it. Let’s stick to our list and not do impulse purchases – sometimes those “sale items” end up being more expensive than what we would have otherwise bought.”

My middle child had done this with me so much through the years that she started doing most of our grocery store runs as her family chore when she was 16 and could drive. (Again, the bulk of our groceries get ordered online, but this was for all those last-minute  “hey, we’re out of milk” runs.)

Earning Money: Having their own money is an essential step for kids to start learning about money and about how to manage it. Some parents choose not to give an allowance, and only pay a child for work done. Here’s an example:

3 – 6 year old: Once a week is paid chore day. … A parent has a pile of money that they offer to pay for simple chores. For example, each washcloth folded is 1 cent, taking out the trash is 5 cents, sweeping the floor is a dime. The child is paid immediately for the job and then offered another job. Early Elementary: Each day as the child arrives home from school, they find an envelope with a quarter in it on the refrigerator. On the outside of the envelope there is a list of chores they must complete before 5pm in order to receive the quarter. If the chores are not done by 5pm, they must still do the chores; however, they will not receive the 25 cent bonus. (Source)

As they get older, they can take on odd jobs outside the house. (Check out Ways for Kids to Make Money – a collection of ideas.) When they reach legal working age, you can decide whether you require that they get a job, and if so, do you require that they share a portion of that income with the family. For some families this is a financial necessity. For others, it may be more of a lifestyle choice.

Allowance: Many families choose to give a weekly allowance, if their family finances allow for that.

How much? Some people say $1 per year old. Some may do 25 cents per year old. How much is appropriate for your family depends on your finances, but also on how your child will use it – what you buy for them, versus what they buy for themselves.

What do they use allowance for? For child #3, we started allowance last November when he turned 5 and was starting to understand math and money. He gets $1.25 per week. He has to save 50 cents, put 25 cents in the give-away jar (see below for more on these ideas) and can spend 50 cents. Which pretty much means he buys candy at gymnastics, and a super ball at soccer. Each time, before he puts the money in the slot, I ask him to pause… I say “you have two quarters this week, and you’re spending one of them now. Is that what you really want to do or do you want to save it for something else?” He always chooses to do it, but I want to teach that idea of Pause-To-Be-Sure before you spend the money. His spend money at this age is pretty much about whatever he WANTS – we take care of buying the things that meet his NEEDS.

When our older kids were in high school, we gave them $1 per year old, plus a clothing budget for back to school shopping in the fall, plus a Christmas gift budget. That was all they got from us. We didn’t hand them money to go out to a movie, we didn’t give them money to buy a birthday present for a friend, or to buy makeup, and we give them really minimal birthday and Christmas gifts, so that money was really their sole asset. The clothing budget was enough to buy plenty of clothes if they shopped at consignment stores. If they bought new, it wouldn’t go far. And yes, one time my child chose to spend her whole back to school budget on one high-priced item. (See discussion below on letting them live with the consequences of their actions!)

What is allowance for – how do you earn it? Some people make allowance the child’s salary for doing chores, and if they don’t do the chores, they don’t get the money. The advantage to that is it is closer to what they’ll experience in future paying jobs.

Personally, I don’t like it because it implies that household chores are optional. My oldest child who doesn’t care much about money and doesn’t like doing housework would have happily opted out of this system.

In our family, we have a mutual commitment to the work that needs to be done to keep the family functioning well (laundry, groceries, cleaning, and so on.) We all need to do our part in the work. In exchange for meeting our responsibilities, we also all get benefits – things like a roof over our heads, food, electricity, and yes, allowance for the kids. If you don’t meet your responsibilities, you can lose a privilege of the household (an easy one to take away that “hurts” your kid but not you is screen time… )

Cash Rewards? Cash for Extra Chores?

It’s good to make a conscious decision about whether there are other ways for your child to earn money. Many parents give cash for good grades. We do not. Just as my job is to go to work and do a good job, their job is to go to school and do their best there. (And again, the rewards we get for that are things like housing, food, electricity and spending money…. ) Sometimes, we do go out to eat or go to a movie to celebrate when someone’s done an especially good job at work or school. But it’s not a guaranteed cash reward.

We do pay for extra work outside of normal chores. That might be extra household chores like scraping moss off the driveway, or hemming the new curtains, or re-organizing the garage. Or, it might be doing things for my workplace. I work at non-profits, and I’ve “hired” my kids over the years to help out with some tasks that my employer can’t afford to pay a grown-up to do. So, from my agency’s point of view, my kids are volunteers, but I pay my kids extra to help. This has been everything from preparing bulk mailings to helping inventory class supplies to entering outcome evaluations data into spreadsheets. My middle child, who has always been motivated to earn money, was pretty much a fully trained admin assistant by the time she was 14. She taught my co-workers how to use the postage meter and other office equioment.

There’s a 13 year gap between my second child and my third, so many people joke that I have built-in babysitters. Here’s how we’ve handled that. In general, my husband and I are responsible for the little one. We are his parents, my older kids are not. But my older kids are expected to help out… if they’re in the kitchen and he asks for a glass of milk, they pour it. If he’s crying and I’m making dinner, they can choose to take over dinner prep or work with him, but they have to do one of those things. That’s just part of the jobs of the family, just like cleaning house is. If I need to run an errand, and they’re just hanging out at home, I leave him with them. But, if there’s a time when we need a babysitter where if we did not have these older children we would have to hire outside help, then we pay them for that time. So, when I worked on Tuesday nights all through one child’s senior year of high school, she watched her brother, and I paid her for that.

Save, Spend, Give – How to Divvy up the Pool of Money

When I was a kid, most kids got allowance as pure spending money – we could waste it on whatever we wanted. Many experts now recommend a different approach, that involves an essential idea of money management – saving some money for the future. And many add in a component of charitable giving.

The Moonjar financial literacy program (summarized here) recommends dividing money up into three containers: Spend, Save, and Share. TheMint.org recommends 4 jars:

A spending bank for money to be used soon on everyday things.
A saving bank for money to be used later on larger items.
An investing bank for money that will be used several years from now.
A giving bank for gifts to help others.

The Share Jar or “Giving Bank” can be only for charitable giving; or some families also use this for gifts for family and friends. Having a Share Jar is one way to talk about your family values with your child – is it important to give to people who have less than you do? Or important to give to causes that are important to you? Talk about it.

This article by Sahara Pirie offers a variation of four jars. Her child was required to put 10% of her allowance into each jar, and then divide the other 60% up as she saw fit.

  • Play (spending money for now)
  • Buy Later (a short-term savings which “which teaches the discipline, and deferred gratification, of saving funds to purchase something special”)
  • Give (charity – “Contributing to a larger good is one of our family values”), and
  • Financial Freedom (“We explained that the money would “never come out,” but would grow for when she wanted to retire. We later helped her transfer the money from the jar into a savings account, and later she will get to move the funds, if she wishes, into her own investments.”) Note: I personally find this definition of the financial freedom jar far too abstract… If I were to do it, I would wait to add that jar till my child was in high school, and I would tell them that was their rainy day fund for when they enter adult life after college.

We used the three jar concept with our older kids….. kind of. But, we were not as successful as we could have been with it. Most weeks when allowance day rolled around, we didn’t have cash, so we kind of scribbled down notes about where money would go or sort of kept track in our heads… really, we didn’t keep good track. So our kids didn’t really learn the lessons well. It would work much better to actually have real physical cash in hand. Especially for younger kids (say under age 8) who really need concrete objects to help them understand abstract ideas. We just need to go to the bank and get the cash stash we need to make this happen.

This points out a key thing to remember about allowance: whatever system you set up, make sure it’s easy for you to maintain. Consistency is important!

Tracking spending money

Encourage  your child to keep a money diary where they track what they spend their spending money on so they can decide in retrospect if those choices have made them happy. (I know plenty of adults who had a Starbucks hobby or other habit that was “just a couple bucks a day” then they then added up how much they spent in a month on that, and decided there were other things they’d rather do with that money.)

Saving toward a goal

We were not good with our older kids about setting goals for the savings jar. What tended to happen was they would build up a sum in there for a while, and then spontaneously decide to buy something pricey and use up all the money they saved. It would be much better to set a goal for something that’s important to them, develop a savings plan, track progress, and so on. This allows you to teach financial skills like budgeting, but also allows for more discussion about family values and priorities.

Recently, I had a discussion with my siblings (all in their 50’s) and we each remembered a story from our teens about we had worked very hard for and saved a long time to buy – a guitar, a stereo, a used car, a week at camp… we remembered lots and lots of hours of hard work babysitting, snow shoveling, weed pulling. We remembered tracking our progress toward our goal (and standing outside the music store window and dreaming) and the sense of accomplishment when we achieved what seemed an unreachable goal.

Talking about Money

Do your kids know how much you make? (roughly)  Do they know how you make financial decisions? They should! You are the biggest role model they’ll ever have for how to manage money. Talk to them about it. Be open and honest. Talk about your struggles and your mistakes. Talk about the smart choices you have made.

Prioritizing: What else could I get for that much money? As your children start getting older, they can understand price tags – that item costs $15. They may have saved up $15 and thus be capable of buying it, but you may want them to pause for a moment and realize that money spent on one thing is opportunity lost for spending it on something else. One way of doing this is to compare it to other items – “if you’re going to spend $15, what else could you get for that much money? OK, then, of the options you can afford, which one would you most like to have? Or would you rather keep saving money so that you could buy one of these other items that costs $20?”

How much does that really cost us? It is helpful if your child can contextualize dollar amounts within your family’s lifestyle. $15 can mean a lot of money for some families, and not much for others. So, you could say “That item costs as much as Mama earns in an hour. So, that’s one hour of Mama being at work.”

Wants versus Needs: We had a lot of long talks with our kids about the difference between what we want and what we need. We generally took care of their Needs, but they were on their own for Wants. My daughter told me recently that she remembers when she was young having no idea what that meant, but growing in understanding of it over the years.

Right now, with two in college, the rule is we pay tuition, room, board and books. That’s it. No more money for anything. If they choose to go out for pizza or a movie or want clothes or whatever, that’s on their dime. We also require that they get summer jobs. (We told them we required part-time school year jobs, but somehow that hasn’t happened….) Our older one has had some mighty lean Aprils and Mays when all the year’s money is used up, and a paycheck won’t come till May. We also told them that if they did badly in school and lost their academic scholarships, they would be required to take out loans and cover all those costs themselves in the future. Or if they took more than four years to complete a degree, they would need to take loans for that extra time.

Mistakes – Do you bail them out or make them live with the consequences?

The only way that our kids really learn anything is to have full responsibility for it. And that includes responsibility for their mistakes.

USU recommends

Resist the temptation to come to their rescue. Let kids feel the effects of the buying decisions, good or bad. If you’ll reinforce that they don’t get any more money, they’ll hopefully spend more wisely in the future. You do, of course, have the right to veto certain purchases that are unhealthy, unsafe, or in violation of your family’s principles. Spell those out in the beginning when discussing what allowances can and cannot cover (source)

Ron Lieber, the author of The Opposite of Spoiled says

Stand back and watch them fail spectacularly. No bailouts. You should want them to feel their mistakes deeply and earn money to solve their problems if need be. Better now than at age 24, when errors lead to wrecked credit scores and worse. (Source)

So, remember the year that my middle child spent all her back to school money on one expensive dress? At the time, she rationalized it as “I have lots of older clothes that are fine. So I’ll be fine with nothing else new.” About a month into the school year, she was regretting having no new clothes. And as much as she loved the dress, it wasn’t really something she could wear often. So, she suffered through some regrets, and then ended up taking on lots of extra jobs at home and for my work in order to supplement her clothing supply – with lots of carefully chosen items from the consignment store.

Role Modelling

Remember your children are watching you! I learned from my parents a lot of thrifty habits (coupons, budgeting, reading the insurance bills to make sure everything got paid correctly, and so on.) But I also learned that careful planning led to having money left over in the year’s budget to allow for special family trips.

One of my friends learned that when the monthly paycheck came, life was great for the next week or so – lots of special treats, going out to eat, going to the movies and so on. But, for the last week of the month… scraping to get by, not having enough food in the house to make a lunch for school, and so on. As an adult, she’s had to figure out how not to slip into this trap.

What are you modelling for your child?

Reading Books to Your Child

The Money on the Bookshelf curriculum incorporates children’s books into a financial literacy program. Reading and talking about books is one of the best ways for parents to teach children. Here’s a sampling of recommendations from their chart on recommended books, and what key money management concepts each book teaches.

Title Age Decision Making
Sheep  in a Shop 4 and up Decision making and problem solving
Ox Cart Man 4 and up Goal setting and allocating resources
The Purse 5 and up Goal setting, saving and problem solving
A Chair for My Mother 6 and up Recognizing resources, recognizing success
Something Good 7 and up Prioritizing

For each of the 12 books they cover, the curriculum includes facilitator and parent guides. They’re designed to be used for a class, but I also think parents could easily use them as a resource for family discussions and activities. As a sample, for the book Sheep in a Shop, the guide suggests:

  • First, read the book to yourself, and think about these ideas: the sheep have to choose a gift, there are many things to choose from, it’s hard to decide
  • As you read to your child, talk about: Why was it hard for the sheep to make a decision? They didn’t have enough money – how did they solve this problem?
  • Plan a swap meet with friends where kids can trade toys
  • Help your child choose a gift for someone

Working through one of these books and lesson plans every few months, starting when your child starts kindergarten, would be a great way to ground them in some good financial decision-making skills.


  • Money on the Bookshelf curriculum. This is a fully fleshed out curriculum (even includes icebreakers and evaluation tools if you’re an educator who wants to use this in a group setting.) It is for teaching financial literacy to parents of children age 4 – 10, especially low income parents. It covers everything: one section is on developmental characteristics of each age, and what you should teach at this age.
  • Why Is teaching children money matters so important from Utah State (USU) extension is a whole packet of tips. (Note to educators: this could be a source of handouts for your class – you wouldn’t have to use the whole packet, just the most helpful pages.)
  • MoneyBunny.com has .pdf books and .mp3 audio stories about saving money. There are also follow-up activities for teachers / parents to do after the story.
  • Hands On Banking from Wells Fargo – an interactive set of videos to explain basic concepts of finances and banking. I’m not sure what age group it’s designed for – my five year old found it engaging, but the activities were way over his head. (“If a scooter costs $45.99 and a shirt costs $12.99, how much would a scooter and two shirts cost – don’t forget to include the 10% sales tax.”
  • There are lots more good resources out there. Start your search at Jump Start – this is a searchable database – search for materials by age group and cost (includes lots of free items that are downloadable, plus recommendations for books and more)

photo credit: HODL! via photopin (license)

47 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (or Their Heads Will Explode)


There’s an article by Parents Magazine  that I often see shared on the internet. It’s titled “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids.” When I see that headline, I think of things like “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “I wish you’d never been born.” Those probably should fall in the category of things never to say to your kids. Or to anyone else’s kids, for that matter.

But what are the horrible, soul-wounding phrases that Parents magazine cautions against? “Great job.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Let me help.” “Be careful.” “You’re OK.”

Yeah. Pretty harsh, eh?

Now, when you read their article, it’s actually got lots of good content, with some helpful tips. It’s worth a read. I’m not concerned about the topic so much as the tone that is presented by the headline.

A better title would be “Translating Common Parenting Sayings into More Positive Statements Which Will Help Them Develop Into the Emotionally and Physically Healthy, Upstanding Citizens You Hope They Will Become.”

But, Parenting magazine knows the rules of modern media. When you want people to read a title on Facebook and click through to read the article, it helps to include a number in the title (“5 reasons chocolate is better for you than kale”) and it helps to convince people that if they don’t read the article something terrible will happen to them or their children. (“If you don’t follow these tips on screen time, your child will be brain damaged for life.”) Companies who advertise on a magazine’s website appreciate those “clickable” titles, because it means more people look at the article, and thus at their ads.

And it’s not just Parenting magazine – many other media outlets have used this same headline with success. Here’s just the first page of search results for “things never to say to your kids”

But, when parents read this headline, or countless others like it, how does it make parents feel? It raises anxiety. It creates stress around the sense of “I have to do everything right as a parent, or my child will end up screwed up.” It makes us feel guilty about all the times we’ve “done it wrong.”

For example, check out this anxiety and guilt  inducing intro from Parent Society:

If you’re a halfway decent parent, you do your best to not swear at your children or call them names. But other phrases that roll off the tongue can be every bit as dangerous — especially since you might not even realize you’re saying them. Take a look at six phrases you need to cut out of your conversations…

Then to read through  those six dangerous phrases, you have to click through seven pages that are so loaded with ads, it’s hard to actually find the content…

So, let’s first reality check these messages:

  1. Parents will say mean things to their kids. We do. I do – just yesterday I said some things I’m sure are on lists of “things never to say to your kids.” We have bad days, and we get angry, because we’re human. (Check out my series on parental anger – how to manage it and how to heal from it.)
  2. Luckily, kids are remarkably resilient. (To learn more about resiliency and how to help your kids build it, read this article by Jan Faull on the PEPS website.) If you have a positive, loving relationship with your child overall, a few harmful words will not damage that permanently.
  3. Almost all the things on all these lists of “things never to say” aren’t really that dreadful. I promise you that if you say good job to your child, they won’t be permanently damaged!!  However, there are many more things you might say instead, or in addition to, good job. Having an awareness of alternatives just helps broaden your list of options for how to connect with and guide your child.

So, I read through all those articles on things never to say. And I’ve gathered them all [well, almost all] into the left hand column of this table. But I am NOT saying “Never say these things.” Frankly, for most of these phrases, it would be totally fine if you say them from time to time. But, they don’t want to be the only message your child hears from you.

The middle column is just to help raise awareness of how these phrases could have a negative impact if over-used over time. The right hand column suggests other options you can try out, and gives resources for where you can learn more.

Phrase that “parenting experts” caution parents against using Negative / non-helpful ways the phrase could be heard by a child if this is all you ever said to them Alternative things to say or do (on good days when you have the time and energy) that may be more helpful
Good Job / Great Job / Good girl


That’s a beautiful picture
You did that just right
What a perfect building you built!


You’re the best _____ in the whole wide world

Empty praise – if it was something that was really easy for them to do, it’s weird to say good job.

Judgement – implies that there’s one right way to do things.

They’re reached their limit – you don’t think they can do any better.


They’ll someday realize you’re lying or exaggerating and lose faith in your judgment. Or they’ll feel pressure to really become the best.

Only praise things that took effort.


Focus on the process and HOW they did it and what they learned rather than on the product.
Give specific detailed feedback about what’s good, and what could be even better.
Read about questions to ask to extend their learning.

Read more about effective praise.

I’m proud of you

I love it when you….

It would make me happy / mad if you…

I’m ashamed when you….

I’ll never forgive you

Conditional love. Also implies that your emotional well-being as an adult is dependent on your child’s behavior of the moment. Let your children know that you will always love them, no matter what. (This doesn’t mean that their behavior is always OK – it’s not, and you do need to set limits. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have high expectations for them – you do want them to work hard and be good people. But your happiness is not dependent on that.)
Practice makes perfect Well, practice makes much better. But, it doesn’t make perfect because nothing is perfect. And aiming for perfect implies that mistakes are evil. “Practice and you will improve.”
“Making mistakes helps us get better.”
“If you aren’t making any mistakes, this is too easy for you and maybe you’re ready for more challenge.”
Read more about “Willingness to Fail is the Inventor’s Key to Success.”
You’re so [shy, smart, clumsy, pretty]

You’re the [strong, fast, silly, wild] one

You always…

You’ll never… [lose, win, do anything wrong / right]

You’re worthless / a loser

Girls don’t do that / Boys don’t like..

This is all labelling. Labelling your child limits them.

If you label them based on a problem behavior, It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they continue to be that way.

If you label them by a “talent” they have, then that creates a lot of pressure on them to retain that talent. They worry about losing your love / their identity if they don’t succeed in that area.

You do want to understand your child’s temperament, gender influences, and learning style and help support them in using their strengths to build confidence and work around the things that come harder to them. But don’t “label” kids or think they’ll never change.

Praise effort, not talent. Let them know that everyone can get better at anything if they work at it. Learn more about the growth-based mindset.

You’re just like [someone I don’t like]
Why can’t you be more like….Stop acting like a baby.
You’re so [bad adjective]
Big boys don’t…
Good girls don’t….
The first labels them (see above). The second means they’re always being held to someone else’s standard.
These statements are intended to shame a child. “A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves.”
Let your child become the very best them they can become without worrying whether they are just like someone else.

If you disapprove of a child’s behavior, tell them how to change the behavior. Try not to attack their identity or their sense of being worthy of your love.

What’s wrong with you? Implies that the problem is with them, instead of with the situation. “What’s wrong?”
“What happened that upset you?”
Let me help you

Just let me do it for you

You’re doing it wrong, let me do it

You’re too slow, I’ll do it

Implies that they’re not competent.

If you rescue your child from every challenge, how will they ever learn to do anything on their own?

Allow them to be frustrated. When we’re struggling with something, we’re on the verge of learning something new. (If they’re miserable, that’s a different story….)
Ask guiding questions – “what happens if…”
Make gentle suggestions “Try…”
If you’re really in a hurry say “I need to help you so we can get to preschool on time. Tomorrow you can try again when we have more time.”
You’re OK (after child is hurt and is crying)

Don’t cry

What a dumb thing to get upset about

Don’t worry, it will be fine

There’s no reason to be scared, just do it

Dismisses their feelings as unimportant.


Tells them not to trust their intuition and just do things even if they seem risky. (This could get them into all sorts of trouble as teenagers.)

Validate emotions and pain first, then reassure. Once you’ve said “I hear that you’re scared / hurt / worried” then you can address logical reasons why you believe that it will be OK in the end. More on emotion coaching.
Don’t talk to strangers. This blanket message can make your child fearful of everyone and also limit their ability to learn the social skills they’ll need as adults who very frequently have to talk to strangers! Model appropriate ways to interact with appropriate strangers.
Talk to them about how to tell the difference.
Read more about how to help your kid judge whether to talk to strangers.
Be careful. If over-used, can create a fearful child who thinks the world is a dangerous place. Also: Teacher Tom says: “An adult who commands, “Don’t slide down that banister!” might be keeping a child safe in that moment, but is… robbing him of a chance to think for himself, which makes him that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him what to do.” Demonstrate / model how to be safe.
Encourage them to look before leaping.
Encourage them to tune into how they feel about something – if they’re nervous, there may be a good reason.
When the risk is just a mild bump or bruise, let them test things. Someday they’ll get that bruise, and they’ll learn something important.
Read more about teaching safety skills.
I’ll never let anything bad happen to you

Don’t worry – you’ll always be safe

I promise – I’ll never die. I’ll always be here

Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. You can tell that you’ll try to do all these things. “I’ll do my best to keep you safe. I’ll try to always be there for you, for as long as I live. Sometimes bad things will happen and I’ll try to help give you tools for coping with that.”
You’re in the way.

I can’t get anything done with you around.

Hurry up. You’re making us late.

Shut up.

I have better things to do than…

Would you just leave me alone for 5 minutes?

We all know that children are terribly inconvenient room-mates who just make everything harder. But, we don’t need to tell them that every day!

These sorts of statements create stress and anxiety and make the child wonder if he is loved.

Give positive, concrete suggestions for other positive, concrete things they could be doing in the moment.

When you really need a break or need help, admit it and ask for it. That’s part of modelling self care. “Mama is really sick today. I need your help. Can you sit and play quietly for just a few minutes?”

If …. then…..  If you don’t do [this bad thing], then you’ll get [this punishment]. “I’m expecting bad behavior and am looking forward to punishing you.” When … then….  “When you do [good thing that I’m expecting you to do], then we’ll get to do [this fun thing] together.” Learn more about punishment and reward.
Wait till your father gets home… Makes someone else into a bad guy.

Implies that you don’t have enough power to enforce consequences.

Consequences should be immediate, logical, and enforced by the parent who encountered the misbehavior.
I told you so

That’s what you get for not listening

Yes, you probably told them not to do something, and yes, it’s frustrating when they do it anyway. But rubbing it in serves no purpose. “Well, that’s not what you were hoping would happen is it? What could you do differently in the future so you don’t have this problem again?”
Because I said so Implies that you make arbitrary judgments on a whim and they have no control over that. “I’m your parent, and it’s my job to keep you safe and help you grow up to be a good person and keep things running well around the house. Sometimes I have to enforce rules you don’t like. It feels unfair to you, but I will continue to do what I think is best.”

Summer Outdoor Movies in King County

movieEach summer, I go through and make a list of all the options for outdoor movies… this year someone did it for me!


I loved taking my older girls to outdoor movies every summer – the kids can run around near you and play, you can relax on your picnic blanket. They’re free or cheap. Lots of fun kid-appropriate summer movies. It’s all good!!

Sadly, our boy has been an early-to-bed child so far, and in Seattle summertime it doesn’t get dark enough to start an outdoor movie until after his bedtime. (I think in July, movies start at 9ish. In August, they start at 8:30 or so)  But, if you’ve got a child who stays up later, or a child who will curl up on a picnic blanket and fall asleep, they’re great!

If you’re interested in lots more fun (and inexpensive) things to do with your kids in King County, check out my Cheap Dates with Toddlers series. If you want to learn more about fun outdoor activities, and why they’re good for kids, I write a lot about nature play.


photo credit: watching the movie via photopin (license)

Great New Resource for Kids Songs

Let’s Play Music is a phenomenal resource!

The site is developed by Sara Mullett, who has 15 years of experience teaching kid’s music classes. There are over 150 songs on the site, and for each, she includes lyrics, sheet music, videos of her playing the tune on a xylophone, circle time ideas including puppets, movement games, etc.

You can also follow her page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/personalisedlullaby, where she shares her own posts and also puts links to other helpful resources on the web.

For my other favorite resources for kids songs, look here, and for links to lyrics for, and videos of, my favorite kids songs, look here.

Nature Connection Pyramid

pyramidi like this infographic from the Nature Kids’ Institute, which gives “recommended daily allowances” style of recommendations for getting your child outside. (They have a free five part series of short videos on “Let’s Bring Childhood Back Outside.”)

They talk about free, unstructured outdoor play once a day. This is about the little stuff, like finding some tree stumps in your neighborhood to climb and jump off of, or stopping at a local plant nursery, going on an autumn leaf hunt or a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood, or walking to the store, or playing in the backyard, or weeding the garden or digging in a sandbox. In the video, they say the best thing is an empty outdoor space with no toys or obvious activities so children get creative and invent their own play.

They suggest that once a week, you make a plan for a nature outing, like a trip to the dog park (whether or not you have a dog), a visit to a farm park or petting zoo, a hike to search for wildlife. You could even just visit the same woods or park every week, and make friends with a tree. At this time of year, try the pumpkin patch.

Once a month, check out a regional, state or national park. Here are some new favorites we found this summer. And once a year, go somewhere wild.

If you find yourself making excuses for why you “just can’t go outside today”, check out my post on overcoming the barriers to outside play.

Why do this? There are so many benefits to outdoor play! Increased creativity and self-direction, decrease in ADHD symptoms, large motor development, lower obesity rates, better vision, and more… As winter sets in, you’ll often feel like your child is “bouncing off the walls” inside. Bundle them up, take them outside, and let them play!

Have you gotten your recommended dose of nature today?