Character Development in Young Children

May 29, 2013

Happy SummerWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

The other night, I was watching a recorded interview with a parenting expert. The reporter asked the expert some tough questions regarding her opinion on raising children with character in a morally corrupt society. The expert repeatedly gave vague answers, and the reporter became frustrated and finally abruptly asked, “Whatever happened to, ‘This is wrong, this is right, this is good, and this is bad?’ Why can’t we just tell children to mind their manners and to say, ‘Please,’ and ‘Thank you’?” The reporter was pointing out that the expert’s very vague answers to very simple questions were confusing parents even more.

Here is my point: Values are caught more than they are taught. Your children will watch you and then do what you do. If you want them to be honest, tell them the truth and seize teachable moments to show them the value of honesty. If you want them to be compassionate, show compassion to others and introduce that lifestyle to them very early. If you want them to be disciplined about what they eat, what they watch, and what they say, then you must be attentive to what you eat and watch and say. Offer only healthy foods. Turn off the TV or other media when it doesn’t reflect your family values. Refrain from saying words that your children should not hear.

We often drag our children to experts and ask for help when it’s really the parents who need the discipline. I agree that the condition of society doesn’t help us, but we control our child’s world in so many ways. Let’s be honest. We’re the ones who really want to see that show, eat that junk, or have one more drink. Children typically grow up to mimic what they have observed. This isn’t always the case; but, again … family values are more often caught than taught.

Parenting isn’t for the weak, but it isn’t reserved for those who have achieved perfection either. It is a journey where the relationship matters more than anything. Just remember that little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening. That’s motivation to be the best that you can be! Be clear and consistent about whatever you determine to be important. Consistency is critical and living it out authentically with your child in a warm and loving environment brings the richness and beauty that makes life magical.


Five Straight-Forward Tips for Parents

May 22, 2013

iStock Mother and child talkingXSmallWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

I was sitting at lunch with my sweet granddaughter who is very prissy and always notices my jewelry, my hair, my outfit, and such.  I have long acrylic nails, and three were broken and looked just awful. I held out my hand to show her how badly I needed to get to the nail salon and asked her, “Can you believe Dee Dee’s hand?” My sweet Ava said, “Wow, it is looking old.” Well, that wasn’t what I hoped she would say, but I do love the honesty of children. It is always so refreshing.

Life can rarely be understood in black and white, and there are typically gray areas where discretion is needed. We also sometimes try to sugarcoat our message to avoid offending someone. However, most of us appreciate simple honesty whenever possible. Here are five very honest, straight-forward tips that I hope will help you to parent those you love:



1.     Children will become what they see you live out each day. It is pretty difficult to teach your child the value of honesty if he witnesses your dishonesty over insignificant things. If he hears you tell what we like to call ‘white lies,’ don’t be surprised if, as a teenager, he tells you what you want to hear instead of telling you the truth.


2.      Children have a way of understanding the overall truth of a matter rather quickly. When tragedy strikes or unpleasant things happen that must be shared with them, it is okay to tell them what happened in an age-appropriate way; but they do not need gory details. They can grasp the overall point, and that is typically all they need. They will ask if they need more. Their main concern will always be, “How does this affect me?” Be sure to include that in any discussion you have with them about events in your family or community.


3.     Children can spot division very quickly and will use it to their advantage. Make sure that the adults in the home who are participating in the child’s life are on the same page. If there are differences, iron them out behind closed doors and present a rock-solid, united front to the child.


4.     Inconsistency is one of the most critical parenting mistakes. Be certain where you stand on an issue before you take action and then be consistent no matter how the child responds. If you change your position, talk it out with the child and let her know that you decided to make the change. Inconsistent parenting is confusing and, in the end, breeds insecurity in children. Follow through and keep the rules and expectations the same.


5.     Don’t apologize for setting fair, consistent, loving limits.  Children are not always happy with boundaries, but they need loving limits imposed by a loving parent until they are old enough to self-discipline. Remember that it is imperative to balance these limits with positive acts of kindness, words of affirmation, and time spent doing fun activities.


It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.” — Joyce Maynard




The Power of Words

May 15, 2013

Mother and DaughterWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I must say that I have the “World’s Best Mom” … hands down. She is the epitome of unconditional love with healthy boundaries. She is my mentor, my best friend, and the heart of our family. I love you, Mom! I also have an amazing daughter and daughter-in-law who are now great moms for the precious children of their unions. All of them honored me with such acts of kindness.

My youngest daughter is 21, still in college, and not married or ready to start a family. She wrote such a beautiful tribute to me. As she was lingering at the refrigerator on Sunday, I walked up behind her to give her a hug and said, “If they lined up all the little girls in the world …” She immediately laughed and said, “I know Mom,” and then finished the sentence. You see, Brittany is the only child in our family who is adopted. She often asked me questions, and I would hold her and tell her sincerely from my heart that if someone lined up all the little girls in the world and told me that I could choose any one I wanted that I would still choose her. These words are now deep in her heart. She has finally not only heard them and memorized them, but now she also truly feels them.

Dr. Phil says it takes 1000 “Atta-boys” to undo just one really hurtful message. This doesn’t mean that you ruin your child if you make a mistake – it means that words are very powerful and they stick. As parents, we owe it to our children to train ourselves to think before speaking.

I will never forget one day when I and my six-year-old son, who is now 34, got into a discussion about my memory. I said there were some things I would never forget. He challenged me and made up a word that he knew I would forget, and we share that secret word to this day.  We still smile and use it routinely to remind us both that words and agreements made 28 years ago still matter.

Every word matters. It is our responsibility as parents to discipline our thoughts and our tongues from the moment our children are born so that we do not wound them. We can take heart in knowing that our feelings often follow our actions. The more we practice respect, kindness, love, and patience with our children, the more we actually feel what we once did simply out of discipline.

Here are five practical tips for keeping your words positive:

1.     Make a commitment to practice being positive by using a patient tone even when you feel like exploding.

2.     Practice smiling! Smiles improve your mood, and your child will benefit from them, too.

3.     Use words of compassion when you might not really care if Sophia likes Evan or if Parker made the team. Sometimes your child just needs to know that you care enough to listen. You can offer her a compassionate tone, a gentle touch, and an empathetic look even when you don’t actually feel that way in the moment. Feelings follow actions.

4.     Listen … even when you think you don’t have the time. Hold your tongue rather than tell your child that you are too busy for him. These words stick. You can always say something like, “Baby, I am very busy, but I’m never too busy for you. What do you need?” It will have an impact on him when you answer like this each time. Find just two minutes to stop, make eye-contact, and assess if he really needs you right now.

5.     Ask for forgiveness when you fail. Model the behavior you desire to see from your children. No one is perfect. When you make a mistake, just apologize and learn from it. Keep working on building a home that is filled with positive affirmation.

This may sound like a cliché, but you will most likely ask yourself, “Is she listening?” when you consistently repeat certain things each day or every week. Nevertheless, keep filling her head with all the words she needs to counteract the negative messages that she will surely hear as she encounters life. Make certain it is your voice ringing clearly in her ears with words of praise, encouragement, affirmation, courage, and support.

Developing Happy Children

May 8, 2013

happy little girl cover her mother eyes for funWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” — Dalai Lama

If this is true, how do we teach our children to be happy?


First of all, we teach them by the way we ourselves live. Often the lessons are intentional and often they are not. There is one thing that has been proven through time: Happiness is a decision. We choose to be happy or we choose to be unhappy. It is not controlled by money or circumstances.



Sometimes our children emulate us, and sometimes they vow to be different from us. Either way, they are learning from our choices. More likely than not, our children will become what we have lived before them. Here are ten things that you can do to help your child develop into a happy adult:



1.     Healthy routines matter. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise, a proper rest schedule, and adequate time spent exploring nature is vital to children and adults.

2.     Teach your child early in life to freely forgive others. Live this out before him. If he sees that you hold a grudge and are constantly tearing others down, it is possible that he will not discover the beauty and freedom of forgiveness.

3.     Smile. Make a habit of smiling at others. Teach your children to make eye contact and greet others with a smile. So often a warm, genuine smile will bring someone, even to a stranger, out of a sad mood.

4.     Teach your child how to change his thought patterns. A counselor once told a group of first graders to, “Hit the eject button on that movie of sad thoughts and just tell your brain that you are not going to watch that movie anymore.” She went on to say that, “Once you hit the eject button, put in a DVD of funny or happy thoughts and watch that movie.” I thought it was a great way for young children to see that they can control their thoughts. I often use it myself to choose happiness.

5.     Show your child the beauty of serving others. Start early in her life showing her how to be of service to others. Find a way to demonstrate to her that your community has needs and how important it is to help others. Everyone is happier when they are giving of themselves and meeting the needs of others.

6.     Be grateful for what you have. When you serve those who are less fortunate, it helps children and adults focus on gratitude. Gratitude is refreshing, and it always lifts your spirit.

7.     Laugh at yourself. This takes a lot of practice, but it can be taught. Some children are perfectionists, so take every opportunity to model this behavior and don’t take yourself so seriously.

8.     Guard your relationships and who influences your children. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Make sure that you are choosing friendships that support the happiness goals for you and your child.

9.     Live in the moment. Real joy involves being fully present and not worrying about the future. Trust me — your children know when they are getting only a portion of you. Put away the distractions and live in the moment. Not only will you enjoy it more, but you will also teach your children the path to happiness.

10.  Keep it simple. You don’t need all the things you think you need to be happy. Things might be fun, and there may be pleasure in certain toys and experiences … but things cannot make you happy. Happiness is a choice that comes only from within. Teach your children this at an early age.
I am confident that our children will grow into happier adults if we understand how to develop happiness in our own lives. Children learn what they live, and we owe it to them to be the best that we can be for them.

Lessons Learned: How Two Amazing Young Men, Two Moms, a Nap-Time Story, and a Sobbing Stewardess Changed My Weekend and Impacted My Life

May 1, 2013

Dyan welcome home pictureWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

DEDICATED to ALL the men and women who serve our country and keep us safe!

I blog because of my passion to inspire big people to love, nurture, enjoy, cuddle, teach, and be advocates for little people, for their family units, and for those who might not have their own voice.  I strive for a common-sense approach, so I often share simple life lessons I learn along the way. I feel that if my life is impacted, perhaps I can impact others. I say without reservation or hesitation that it has been a long time since I have been so inspired by a series of events. I also warn you that this blog might take a little longer to read than most. My heart is overflowing. I am flying home as I write and will have only one day with family, but I will be fully present for the beauty of the ordinary in a new way.

I arrived in a Midwest city on Friday afternoon after having traveled all week. This was probably my sixth airport in seven days. I had an important work event on Saturday, and I must admit that I was extremely weary. I love my life and my work, but I was really feeling the stress of my schedule on this particular day. I stepped off the plane lost in myself and my worries. As I entered the gate area, I saw the little man pictured here standing with his mom. He stopped me in my tracks, and I was unable to talk or keep walking for a few moments. I see welcome-home signs quite often in airports, but there was something in this child’s eyes that moved me beyond words. His intensity and his longing to see his dad walk off that plane just filled me with compassion.

I asked his mom for permission to take his picture. She had big tears in her eyes and excitedly explained to him that I wanted to take his picture because I thought he looked so nice. She gently caressed his head and told him to look at the camera. He did, but it was tough — he kept looking behind me for Daddy who was on my flight and returning from Afghanistan. I wanted to stay and take pictures of them, but I had not suffered with them and felt that I did not deserve to experience their reunion. I walked away feeling grateful to his father, to his mother, and to sweet, brave, little Dylan who had sacrificed his daddy. They had all paid a big price for me and my family … for all of us.

My weariness couldn’t possibly compare to Dylan’s father’s. My sadness for not being with my children and grandchildren for our traditional Sunday lunch seemed so small compared to the many meals that Dylan has missed with his dad. I thought about how just last weekend, I had driven my granddaughters to lunch with the car top down and listened to them squealing with delight while Dylan and his mom were probably counting down the days until Daddy came home.

Dylan’s eyes say it all … eyes of longing, hope, sadness, and anticipation. Our men and women who serve would probably say that the ordinary days with their families are what they miss the most while many of us run through these days without pausing to appreciate them. And so came Lesson #1: Gratitude is refreshing. I vowed to look beyond my pettiness and appreciate the beauty of the everyday things. I will find ways to reach out to those who make tremendous sacrifices for others, including those who sacrifice for our country. I could have spent the last 30 minutes writing in my gratitude journal or thinking of creative ways to help others rather than wasting that time feeling down and focused on my own problems. I must admit that there was a bounce in my step when I walked away from Dylan that wasn’t there before I met him. I am grateful to him, to his family, and for every good thing that I have taken for granted.

This brings me to my next wake-up call — Lesson #2: Find a way to communicate with those you love. Nap time at Children’s Choice in the center we were visiting was anything but ordinary for one little girl in our Kindergarten program. Her nap time is Daddy’s bedtime where he is stationed, and I cried when I learned that her nap-time routine includes a Skype “tuck-in” – her dad tucks her in for nap, and she tucks him in for a good night’s rest. Where there is love, there is a way. Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on finding a way to seize every opportunity to communicate your love and devotion to those who matter in your life. Don’t let guilt, distance, or any other challenge keep you from finding creative ways to be involved in your loved ones’ lives.

Lesson #3: Do it while you can. As I was walking to my gate today, I witnessed a mom receiving a phone call. I do not know the details; I just know what I saw. She was a beautiful, elegant woman who lost all sense of direction and poise. She began sobbing, stumbling, and dropping things while trying to run to a gate. Some amazing people jumped in to help her, and all she could say was “My daughter…I just got a call…my daughter…” Those of us around her became a team. One man ran to the gate to ensure the plane didn’t leave without her. Someone else took her rolling suitcase while two strong men got on either side of her to escort her while gently saying, “We will get you there.” None of us knew her story — we just felt her loss and knew that something very bad had just happened. Love while you can. Hug while you can. Express it now.

I thought about how I had gotten off a plane so self-centered less than 36 hours before and how much I had learned since then. Well, another lesson was waiting for me on this flight. Lesson #4: Is there anything more beautiful than a mother’s love? I was shaken when I boarded the plane and was thankful for an upgraded seat in first class. A stewardess began the safety instructions; and although she was trying, she just couldn’t stop crying.  She apologized profusely and said, “I just saw a very young Marine in the back of the plane in full uniform. I asked him if his mom had seen him in full uniform yet. He began to cry and said, ‘No,’ but she was meeting him.” He told the stewardess how much he missed his mom and that she was so proud and so excited to see him. His tears said it all – he was proud, happy, and weary. The stewardess said she lost it at that point. Just then, a mom sitting on the first row jumped up and said, “He will not ride in the back! My son is a Marine. Bring him to my seat, and I will sit in the back of the plane.” How many lessons about a mother’s love, selflessness, pride, and honor can you receive from what I witnessed?

I have a new passion: To treasure and find beauty in each ordinary day. I vow to not waste my time being unhappy, focused on petty things, or pouring my heart and soul into things that simply do not matter. I trust that by sharing my experiences with you that you are inspired to think about what you might have overlooked. Perhaps a leisurely walk with your teenager where phones and other distractions are left behind could turn an ordinary day into a real connection. Perhaps just hugging your little one a bit tighter and making eye contact each morning will remind you of his love for you and will give him the confidence he needs for the real world.  It is an honor to get to hug those we love, to laugh with those we cherish, and to invest in those for whom we are responsible. Sometimes we become mechanical, so we need to be purposeful while we have the opportunity. Children have one childhood, and we have one life. There are no do-overs.

Dylan’s daddy is home, and I am sure that Dylan was ready to get out of that suit and tie and just do some ordinary things with his dad. Dylan, you inspired me and started a weekend of life lessons that I will not soon forget. You and your mom are an inspiration.

My weekend was full of lessons and also full of joy, laughter, and purposeful planning to ensure that I focus on applying these reminders to my own life. To all the men and women who serve our country and keep us safe — You reminded me that I, too, can enjoy ordinary experiences with my family. Thank you!! And to all the parents who work hard, feel guilty, and juggle more than you know how to do — Just take it one day at a time and vow to find beauty and joy in each moment.

“What day is it?”

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
A.A. Milne

It’s mine now, too.