Kids and Adults Face the Power to Choose–A conversation and a Book Review

I Choose.borderChildren enjoy being able to decide things for themselves. As parents we often make the bulk of the decisions in our children’s lives. Most of us understand that decision making is a skill. Like all skills, mastery only comes through practice.  Long before kids become proficient decision makers, they will plod through many errors in judgment. As parents, we face a learning curve too–when is it “safe” for kids to make a choice and when must the decision fall on our shoulders?

One time-tested strategy most  parents utilize: giving kids limited options. For example, “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green one?” Or, “Would you like to brush your teeth with this toothpaste or the other flavor?” Gradually, we release control and they assume it. When a decision flops, we help them extract the learning and then encourage them to try again. Failure is the stepping stone to proficiency not the end of the world. We help them to notice how their decision-making skills are improving. We eliminate the expectation that they will bat a perfect game and open the space to try, and try again. Always, we  highlight the learning instead of the error. Throughout the process, we are there as a safety net to protect them from major missteps.I choose joy

This week, I want to introduce you to an award-winning book written by Suzin Helen Carr and illustrated by her then seven-year-old son. Aptly titled “I Choose,” the book visits various moments when a  child–or adult–is called upon to make a choice. For example, what to wear, how to feel, what to see, do, eat or play. The darling illustrations bring the ideas to life in a way that will appeal to kids. I think it will increase their ability to notice and appreciate the many “choosing” opportunities that occur in their day.



I Choose too.border

The message of “I Choose,” will certainly resonate with adults who share the book with their child. Suzin has also written a version of “I Choose too” an adult version of this  illuminating book . Readers can breeze through this short gem of a book very quickly. Better yet, pause and explore each page. There’s an endless possibility for talking  with your child. You just might be surprised by what you discover about one another.  From Suzin’s website:

“Chandler J. Carr was age 7 when he drew the artwork in this book.  He plays wonderful guitar, loves video games and drawing and wants to be a video game designer when he grows up.  He says that one of the most special things about him is his creative mind.

Suzin H. Carr is the author of I Choose, I Choose Too!, and Yo Elijo, the wife of James, and the mother of Chandler.  She lives in Lutz, Florida where she juggles the life she chooses and is grateful for countless blessings and immeasurable joy.

She is available to speak to your local school, club, or Scout Troop. Topics include the message of the book, the book printing process, its impact on a 7 year old, and following your dream as an artist or writer.”


Feelings: Naming, Sharing, and Recognizing Emotions


Glad Monster.EmberleyAs parents, we focus lots of time and energy towards helping our children grow physically and academically.  We want our kids to be well and to do well. Emotional literacy is another important life skill that needs to be taught.

While this is not a common word floating around in our minds, it is a priority that benefits from intentional effort. All children must learn how to manage their emotions. The first step in managing feelings is to accurately identify them. This is more complicated than one might think.

Kids often mislabel their feelings. Frequently they express their fear or embarrassment as anger. When asked why they are so angry, often they are unable to answer. They may truly not know. By helping them learn to distinguish one emotion from another, we assist them in finding a way to respond appropriately to the need generated by the emotion in the first place.

Kids are challenged not only by mislabeling their emotions but also by an inability to read the body language cues of others. Whether it is an adult’s raised eyebrow or another child’s hands on hips, often times kids are completely clueless to the silent message such body postures convey. So, what is a parent to do?

Reading an engaging book together is often a great place to start. For kids 2-6, consider the fun book “Glad Monster, Sad Monster” by Ed Emberley and Ann Miranda. Part story, part toy, it is a book unlike any other I’ve come across. Told in clipped phrases, each page folds out to reveal a wonderful mask that embodies the feeling being described. Children can “practice” the emotions. (What kid doesn’t love hamming it up?)  As they demonstrate the feeling, kids can tell parents about the things that trigger emotions in themselves. Emberley’s vivid, signature illustrations match the intensity of a child’s big emotions.

Feelings to shareFive to nine-year-olds will enjoy “Feelings to Share from A to Z,” written by Todd and Peggy Snow, illustrated by Carrie Hartman. This is another winning approach to an important skill set. The illustrations are hysterical—and multicultural. There’s an alphabet’s worth of emotional range here. This book also leads to easy conversation that accomplishes important teaching moments.

Remember, kids learn best when they are engaged and having fun. Follow reading with a game. Here are some examples. Make faces and have children guess the feelings they express. Take pictures and turn them into cards that you can use to create a matching game. Use puppet play to further explore feelings.

When kids feel connected, heard, and able to share their feelings their ability to self-regulate improves. This emotional literacy helps strengthen attachments and improve recognition of attachment styles.  They are also more inclined to care about learning family values and guidelines. We all benefit from healthy attachments, especially in the context of adoptive families.

The Wisdom of Two Father’s

Lost LakeTwo books that capture the special connection children share with their dads are Lost Lake written and illustrated by Allen Say and  Enemy Pie written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King .

In Lost Lake, a boy visits his overly-busy non-custodial father and finds himself craving a more intimate experience, one that moves beyond merely sharing the same residence. Both father and son struggle to express their thoughts and feelings in words. When Luke cuts up his dad’s magazine and tapes them to the wall, it takes two days before father notices. When Dad finally does, the boy asks, “Are you angry with me, Dad?” The dad dismisses the damage as meaningless “I’m having the place painted anyway.”

Luke thinks to himself, “He thought I was talking about the marks on the wall.” This line implies so much poignant emotion. Whether in a divorced family or not, kids will readily identify with the feeling of invisibility and the yearning for focused one-on-one time with a parent.  In typical child-thinking, the boy assumes the blame for his dad’s aloof behavior  and is saddened that Dad apparently thinks the question refers to the wall. Believing his Dad missed the point, the boy still wonders why Dad doesn’t talk to him, wonders what he did to make his Dad angry and wonders how he can grab Dad’s attention.

As the story continues, we discover that Dad understood much more. They embark on a week-long journey to find Lost Lake. They discover so much more about themselves and their relationship. Persisting through set backs, pushing through the challenges, they trek on–together, in pursuit of a common goal. Their journey brings deeper understanding of themselves and a closer bond.

I liked this book because it depicted a non-custodial dad working to connect with his child but not in a common Disney Dad activity. Instead he chooses a less-chosen path and that makes all the difference. The exquisite water colors provide a lovely touch for the delicate tone of this book. I rate this five +++++.

Enemy PieEnemy Pie tackles a common experience for kids: a new child moves into the neighborhood and upsets the delicate balance of  friendships and comes between best friends.

Learning to cope with the quicksilver changes of childhood allegiances is something all children face. They feel the betrayal, the confusion and the anger. Kids will understand the boy’s desire to wreak revenge–in the form of a huge slice of Enemy Pie– on the intruder.

What the boy never sees coming, is the magic of Enemy Pie lies not in the ingredients, but in the journey leading up to its being served.

In the vein of the classic Stone SoupEnemy Pie delivers an unpredicted and satisfying conclusion to the boy’s dilemma. Dad creates a transforming experiencing without a single bit of preaching. Enemy Pie showcases Dad Wisdom at its best.

Both of these wonderful books reinforce the important role fathers play in their children’s lives. Buy or borrow a copy to share with your family today.