Could Gold Stars and Praise really be a detriment to your child? Alfie Kohn talks about this and more in PUNISHED BY REWARDS

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series:

Remember the 1990s? Were you raising kids then, or maybe you were one? Do you recall the incentive programs teachers dangled–“If you read 100 books you get this?” or, the BookIt! Program through Pizza Hut–a star for every title you completed and so many stars got you a personal pan pizza at your local restaurant?


But that was just books and reading incentives. Countless medals were given to every kid on every sports team across the U.S.: “Most Improved,” “MVP,” “Most Likely to Sit on the Bench.” Okay, that last one is a bit of a joke, but in all seriousness, there seemed to have been an award for just about anything.

And then these kids grew up. They started expecting similar accolades in college, in the workplace. Everyone started believing that they were exceptional.

But maybe they weren’t. 

In 1993, Alfie Kohn challenged this basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing employees, which he summarized in six words:

“Do this and you’ll get that.” 

This mindset is still alive and well. Incentives for losing weight, bribing students for higher test scores, higher sales equaling more recognition. But wait–what about the process? Why can’t we honor and respect the process of working hard?

In 1993, Kohn warned that offering rewards to people to do what we want proves to be destructive at home, at school, at work. And now, twenty-five years later, that temptation is no less powerful. And the effects are still just as unsatisfactory.

The key here is two-fold: to be intrinsically motivated (that is, from within; innately) and to enjoy the process, not just the outcome (reward, praise, token) and that is what shapes and changes one’s behavior and performance.

PUNISHED BY REWARDS: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 8 2018) is back with the 25th Anniversary Edition and a whole new generation of parents and kiddos.

I’m so honored to welcome Alfie Kohn to the author interview series. Please join us.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

Leslie Lindsay: 

What’s wrong with rewards? I thought we were supposed to try and catch people doing something right rather than punishing or criticizing all the time.

Alfie Kohn:

The fact is that rewards and punishments are much more similar to each other than different. If you think about it, “Do this and you’ll get that” is really pretty close to “Do this or here’s what’ll happen to you.” Both are ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior.  And both have disturbing consequences.

Leslie Lindsay:

Such as?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, if we’re talking about how well people work or learn, the quality of performance tends to decline in the long run when either threats or bribes are used to “motivate” people. A number of studies have found that people who see themselves as working at a task mostly in order to receive some goody wind up doing a significantly poorer job than people who aren’t expecting to receive anything.

Leslie Lindsay:

Why is that?

Alfie Kohn:

One reason — and this is also a rather destructive effect in its own right — is that when you do something for a reward you tend to become less interested in what you’re doing. It comes to seem like a chore, something you have to get through in order to pick up the dollar or the A or the extra dessert.  What this means is that millions of well-meaning teachers and parents and managers are killing off creativity and curiosity in their attempt to bribe people to do a good job.

“A compelling argument that the use of rewards is counterproductive in raising children, teaching students, and managing workers….A clear, convincing demonstration…written with style, humor, and authority.”

— Kirkus

Leslie Lindsay:

Are you seriously saying rewards don’t work? I mean, if I offered you a hundred dollars to autograph your book for me, wouldn’t you do it?

Alfie Kohn:

I’d do it for free, actually, but never mind that. You’re right:  rewards work.  But work to do what?  And at what cost?  Those are the two questions we should always be asking.  Rewards, like punishments, work very effectively to produce one thing and only one thing:  temporary compliance.  But if our goal is to get quality in the workplace; or to help students become self-directed, lifelong learners; or to raise responsible, caring children — then rewards are not only ineffective, they’re actually counterproductive.

Leslie Lindsay:


Alfie Kohn:

Absolutely. Beyond the effects on performance, consider the question of how we raise children to have good values.  Studies show that kids whose parents reward them a lot are less generous than their peers.  Is that surprising to you?  Think about it:  such children have been trained to think that the only reason to care about other people is because of what they’ll get out of it.  When there’s no incentive provided — no candy bar or praise or whatever — they have absolutely no reason to help.  They’re not thinking, “What kind of person do I want to be?”  They’re thinking, “What do I have to do to get the reward?”  It’s awfully tempting to try to control kids by promising them good things if they do what we want — or by threatening them with bad things if they don’t — but this approach makes them less responsible and generous in the long term.

Leslie Lindsay:

So you’re saying rewards really don’t motivate us?

Alfie Kohn:

I’m saying rewards motivate us to get rewards. Unfortunately, that’s usually at the expense of excellence at what we’re doing and a commitment to keep doing it.

gold colored star confetti lot
Photo by on

Leslie Lindsay:

So what’s the alternative?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, that depends on whether we’re talking about productivity or learning or values, and on what our specific goals are. If we want mindless obedience, there is no alternative to rewards — except maybe punishment.  But if we want creativity and intrinsic motivation and good values and all that stuff, then it doesn’t make sense to ask “What’s the alternative to rewards?” because rewards never moved us one inch toward those goals.  Manipulating people’s behavior never will.  We have to start from scratch and ask what does help us reach those goals.

Leslie Lindsay:

OK. What does?

Alfie Kohn:

There’s no simple answer. “One size fits all” is a lie in clothing and it’s a lie in behavior.  Stickers and A’s and pay-for-performance are so popular because they seem to offer an easy answer.  After all, they’re based on a theory of motivation that was developed on laboratory animals.  But in the last three chapters of the book I take a crack at exploring the roots of excellence in the workplace and the classroom and how kids grow up to be good people.  My answer takes the form of three “C’s”:  content, choice, and collaboration.  Content means that we have to think about what we’re asking people to do; if the work is pointless or the request is unreasonable, it’s no wonder people seem to require bribes to do it.  Choice means that people are most likely to do their best when they’re given a substantial degree of autonomy about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  And collaboration refers to the proven importance of working or learning with other people instead of against them or apart from them.

painting and drawing tools set
Photo by Pixabay on

Leslie Lindsay:

I can’t resist asking you this: Were you paid to write this book?

Alfie Kohn:

Sure. I make my living by writing and lecturing.  But I find I have to try to stop thinking about the money while I work so I don’t stop loving what I do.  Managers need to divorce the task from the compensation as best they can by paying people well and then doing everything possible to help them put money out of their minds.  Likewise, teachers and parents ought to do everything in their power to help students forget that grades exist — at least if their goal is to maximize learning.  But my main point here is that there’s nothing wrong with money — or with candy or kind words, for that matter.  The problem begins when we make these things contingent.  It’s when we say, “Do this and you’ll get that.”  The damage occurs when the stuff people like and need is dangled in front of them as a way of controlling their behavior.

Leslie Lindsay:

I want to make sure I understand your reference to “kind words.” What are you saying about praise?  Surely you can’t mean that we’re supposed to stop smiling and saying, “Good job”?

Alfie Kohn:

Praise is more complicated than tangible rewards, and my criticism is more qualified here. Of course, any suggestion that praise isn’t simply terrific seems controversial because we’re taught to just slather it on.  The bottom line is that if people feel we’re not merely giving them feedback but actually using honeyed phrases to control them, then verbal rewards will be just as destructive as any other kind.  Encouraging people is fine, but only if we do it in a way that leaves them feeling self-determining and interested in what they’re doing — as opposed to feeling dependent on our approval.  A lot of us give praise more because we have to say it than because they have to hear it:  it gets people to do what we want and it makes us feel powerful because we’re doing the judging.  But our goal should be to help others, especially children, develop the capacity to figure out whether they’re proud of themselves, not what they can do to please us.

Leslie Lindsay:

So what would you say to people who have been using rewards in just the way you’ve described and are now wondering whether they’ve done everything wrong?

Alfie Kohn:

My answer is that if they’re seriously re-evaluating their approach, then I’m not worried about them. The best parents — and for that matter, the best teachers and managers — are those who are willing to rethink their most basic beliefs and practices.  The people I worry about are those who say, “I don’t care what the studies show.  Rewards work and nothing’s going to change my mind.”

acrylic acrylic paint art artistic
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of PUNISHED BY REWARDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

241ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The most recent of his 14 books are SCHOOLING BEYOND MEASURE…And Other Unorthodox Essays About Education (2015) and THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting (2014).

Kohn has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators — as well as parents and managers — across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the “Today” show and two appearances on “Oprah”; he has been profiled in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while his work has been described and debated in many other leading publications.

Kohn lectures widely at universities and to school faculties, parent groups, and corporations. He is the father of two children and lives in the Boston area.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Amazon 51NIJAMDcgL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_


#backtoschool #rewards #punishment #parenting #education 

[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 8.4.18. Special thanks to HMH] 


A little dog saves the girl he loves in a house fire–for young readers–DIGGER

By Leslie Lindsay 

A touching story for young readers about a little dog who saves the girl he loves when their house experiences a fire due to a gas leak. 

Digger Cover (1) Told in verse from the POV of little Digger, a blond terrier, and Kilee’s sidekick who watches as ‘his girl’ is badly burned during a home gas explosion. Digger barks and barks and barks, alerting neighbors that something is wrong, and waking Kilee when she falls unconscious.

DIGGER THE HERO DOG is intended for young readers and their caregivers. The illustrations are bold and colorful and portray a very close likeness to the real Kilee and Digger.The traumatic pieces of the story are glazed over but the important message is about gas safety and the love of a dog for his girl. The end of the book contains information about Shriner’s Hospital, gas safety (including a scratch-n-sniff sticker so kids can identify the smell of gas).

This is an important read and one kids—especially animal lovers—will identify.

May is also National Pet Awareness Month, so what better time than to share Kilee and Digger’s story?

I am so honored to welcome Kilee to the blog couch today. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Kilee, welcome! I am in awe of your story. While traumatic, it’s hopeful, too. The gas leak/explosion happened when you were sixteen. You’re now in college. You were in critical condition as 45% of your body was covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns. How are you doing now?

Kilee: I’m doing great. It took about a year for the recovery process, but after that I was back to doing the usual teenage things. I was able to play my senior year of soccer, which was one of my goals. I made a full recovery and now I am a college student. It took a while to get through it all, but now I’m doing better than ever!

L.L.: Oh and Digger! What a sweetheart. I’ve been an animal lover since I can remember. It’s always been amazing to me that animals have a sixth sense about ‘their people,’ and are able to jump into action when they perceive a threat. Can you talk more about your connection to Digger and how he saved you that day?

Kilee: I have always been an animal lover, too. Digger and I have always had a special connection and it only got stronger that day. He was nowhere near me when I lit the candle and somehow he found me when he knew I needed help. He stood next to me where I had just fallen and hit my head, and he barked until I came to again. He ran out of the house with me and kept circling me letting others around me know that something was wrong. Somehow he knew things weren’t normal. He was the family dog along with his brother and he has always been protective of all of our family, even though he is only a 15 pound Yorkie – Chihuahua mix. Since he saved me that day, he has been all about me. He sleeps with me whenever I’m home, he sits with me on the couch, and if anyone were to hurt me with him watching, it’s hard to tell what he would do. He even goes as far as to sniff the vents everyday for whatever reason.


L.L.: One of the major points of DIGGER THE HERO DOG is fire and gas safety. Not all fires are the result of gas leaks, but it’s so l important to have a family plan and teach children about gas safety. What advice would you give families on this topic? What can parents do?

Kilee: I would advise parents to teach their children about all types of safety, even if it’s hard to help them understand. Many of us are aware that children don’t typically understand things like this, and that is why it was so important to add the safety portion of things to DIGGER THE HERO DOG. It is a very important message and children should be able to understand that bad things can happen if they were to make just one wrong decision. Safety is an important but very tough subject to teach to kids and parents need to do what feels right to them. There is no right way to teach children about these difficult things, but we hope DIGGER THE HERO DOG can help teach such topics to children in a fun and meaningful way.


[DIGGER contains a scratch-n-sniff sticker and instructional sheet on gas leaks. You might also like this article, from Very Well Family on Teaching Kids about Fire Safety. Also, this lesson planning guide from Scholastic on Gas Safety.]

L.L.: Speaking of parents, you and your mom, Lori Highlander, wrote BEAUTIFUL SCARS (2016) about your experience and recovery. What was that process like—did you and your mother grow closer— and can you tell us more about the book?

Kilee: My mom and I wrote BEAUTIFUL SCARS as a way to show others that may be in situations similar to mine that they can get through it. We saw so many children when I was in Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati that were struggling to get through their tough time. I was struggling to get through mine, but once I did I had a much better outlook than many have that have been through something like this. I wanted to be a model for people to look at and say, “If she can do it, I can do it, too.”

51PoSlAvHCL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The message behind BEAUTIFUL SCARS was that anyone can get through anything if they just try and keep a positive attitude throughout the process. That was something my mom and I agreed on the whole time. We wanted people to benefit from this book in whatever way they could relate to it. The writing process benefitted both of us. We were already pretty close, but we definitely grew closer. We had a ghostwriter that put all of our thoughts – written and spoken – into book format. This allowed us to not read or hear what each other had said or written that was planned to go into the book, so we both read each others’ thoughts for the first time when we got the manuscript. There were things that I didn’t know happened when I was in the hospital that I read about for the first time, which I thought was pretty neat. It was a fun process.

L.L.: You’re now a college student. What are you studying and what do you hope to do after graduation? Do you still play soccer (my 11 year old is *crazy* about the sport).

Kilee: I am a junior at Xavier University and majoring in Communications. I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my degree, but I have learned a lot from doing many different speaking events and what-not, which is why I chose to study Communications. There are so many things that I could do and would feel comfortable doing with this degree, so I thank this whole journey for that. I played intramural soccer my freshman year in college, but I haven’t played organized soccer since then. Occasionally I will go outside when I’m home and play with my brother. I was lucky to heal fast enough to play my senior year of high school soccer though!

L.L.: Kilee, it’s been such an honor. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kilee: I think you’ve covered pretty much everything! If I were to say any last thoughts, I would say to anyone struggling with a tough time, even if it has nothing to do with being a burn survivor: you can do it. Keep a positive attitude and know that you are not alone. You can get through anything if you just try your hardest.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of DIGGER THE HERO DOG, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Kilee & DiggerABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Before she was an award-winning author, Kilee Brookbank nearly died in a fire that destroyed her home and burned Kilee on nearly half her body. Just 16 at the time, Kilee was saved by her courageous pet, Digger, who barked until Kilee came to after the initial gas explosion. In honor of Digger, Kilee, who won a Benjamin Franklin Award for her memoir,Beautiful Scars, has written her first children’s book: Digger the Hero Dog. Kilee hopes to educate children on the importance of knowing which smells, sights and sounds might signal a dangerous situation. Digger the Hero Dog is a true story of the bond between humans and their pets with a happy ending and an important fire-safety message. Just as Digger did, kids will learn that even the littlest among them can make a huge difference in the life of a friend.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 


#authorinterview #firesafety #gasleaks #nationalpetawareness


[Cover and author image courtesy of KiCam Communications and used with permission. Image of boy in fire hat retrieved from, dog and cat from on 5.3.18]

Digger Cover (1)

BookS on MondaY: Husband-Wife creative team talk about their new children’s book, MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY, the environment, and a mouthwatering discussion on a breakfast staple.

By Leslie Lindsay 

Can a pancake save the world? That’s the question this delightful children’s tale sets out to seek. 

Before going fishing one day, Ethan eats his favorite breakfast–pancakes! As his mom explains how pancakes are made with the help of the sun, clouds, rain, animals, and farmers, Ethan sees the world in a new way. 30764934

While playing outside, Ethan decides to create a big splash by throwing a can of in the lake and accidentally contaminates the environment. Time passes and one day Ethan notices that his pancakes taste different. Could that can in the lake have made that change? Ethan enlists the help of his friends to correct his mistake. Do Ethan and his friends repair that mistake, but most of all–what do they learn in the process?

Today, I am honored to have Bruce Galpert here to chat with us…over a big plate of pancakes! 

Leslie Lindsay: I’m always curious about what inspired the idea behind stories, what drives someone to spend countess hours crafting a story…can you tell us your inspiration behind MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY?

Bruce Galpert: As a young father with two sons, I read a lot to my kids…I also spent most Sundays cooking pancakes with and for them–I ate quite a few myself! Trying to teach my kids life lessons, recycling and protecting the environment were also concepts that were important, but difficult to teach to young kids. I always felt that it was hard for children to grasp how their actions could impact the environment positively or negatively. The idea of MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY! came out of that quest.

L.L.: Tell us more about the character of Ethan. How would you describe him? Is he modeled after anyone in particular, your own son, perhaps?

Bruce Galpert: Ethan is just like my youngest son Evan was at that age. The character of Ethan is built around Evan: Ethan is eight years old, observant, intelligent, fun loving, sweet and kind to nature, animals and others. He loves his pancakes and his mother!  He is smart and funny, has tons of friends, and is always asking questions.  In real life, I now have a three-year old grandson named Ethan by way of my son Matthew, so all bases are covered!

L.L.: Writing is certainly not easy or glamorous–at least not all the time. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY! ?

Bruce Galpert: Getting started, the beginning, the middle, and the end! Writing is not my strong suit! Fortunately for me, my wife Heather came into my life. Not only did she inherit my family, but she inherited this project of 20 years that I was unable to complete, even after attending children’s book writing workshops given by some of the best writers in the business. She is credited for helping me put a structure around the story and move it from an idea to something I can hold and read to my grandkids.

L.L.: What was the most rewarding moment you experienced while writing this book?

Bruce Galpert: Seeing the beautiful artwork that Barbara Cate did, and how it worked in harmony with the writing to really tell the story. Heather and I have had such a wonderful time working on this together – it’s our baby.

204255_origL.L.: How much research did you do for the book? What type of research did you do?

Bruce Galpert: Countless Sundays making all kinds of pancakes: blueberry, chocolate, apple fritters. Flipping pancakes and spending time with my boys, was the extent of my research, the best kind! And sadly, watching the growing environmental stress and crisis we are facing as the years march on.

L.L.: What does your writing process look like?

Bruce Galpert: A lot of hair pulling and the words just fall into place. Heather is the the writer in the family, I’m a numbers guy. She helped me tease out the story.

L.L.: Writers get their inspiration from all places. Where do you turn for inspiration?

Bruce Galpert: Heather

L.L.: I love children’s books and I know exactly why: they were embedded in my young life as my dad read to me after work, his arms draped over my shoulders. Where did your interest in writing–and reading–children’s books begin?

Bruce Galpert: I have always had my favorite books…The 4 Chinese Brothers, Ferdinand the Bull, A Fly Went By, A Fish out of Water, Go Dog Go…many of these were based on cause and effect…progressive events.  I am also a cartoon addict, still to this day I spend more time watching cartoons than any other medium.  My son Evan is a brilliant voice over artist and my dream is to see him as a character in an animated film.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, what are some ways to get young people interested in the environment and what foods they eat?

Bruce Galpert: Farmer’s Markets, natural groceries, growing seeds from a packet at home. I think getting kids to engage with nature is the best way…sadly this is so hard for many kids around the world. I had the fortune to live in both Japan and the Philippines as a child and young adult, and the differences in the way each of those cultures reveres and cares for their environment is vast. It really begins culturally at a very young age.

L.L.: How should kids be taught about personal responsibility and their role in sustainability?

Bruce Galpert: By their parents, actions speak the loudest.

L.L.: How would you describe the importance of investing in our children?

Bruce Galpert: They are all we have for the future, a dollar invested in them is worth many more dollars in return down the road. You are seeing this in action today with all of the technology innovations from well-educated Millennials

L.L.: So I have to ask, how do you like to eat your pancakes? 

Bruce Galpert: I like putting chopped apples in the batter, adding cinnamon, and then topping with a blend of butter, syrup, and raspberry jam! Don’t forget to sprinkle powdered sugar on at the last minute. [Getting hungry for pancakes?! I am. Check out this delicious recipe from Bruce and Heather] Absolutely-fantastic-peanut-butter-pancakes-with-a-jelly-topping.jpg

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from My Pancakes Taste Different Today!?

Bruce Galpert: I hope that parents read the book to their kids and that the book is also used as an early reader. This will be the best way to teach children how their actions impact their world.

L.L.: What future projects are you working on?

Bruce Galpert: We have two books in the hopper that we are both very excited about.  One thing at a time I am told by my wife, but creativity has no timeline!

To connect with Bruce and Heather, please visit these social media links:

  • Hashtag #ThePancakesBook

  • Facebook: The Pancakes Book

  • Instagram and Pinterest: thepancakesbook

  • GoodReads Giveaway: Enter to WIN! (Beginning October 10-22, 2016)
  • Book & Author Website

About the Authors & Illustrator: Bruce lives with his wife Heather in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He attended the University of Dallas, where he majored in International Finance and Economics. Bruce has two adult sons, Matthew and Evan, and two grandchildren, Ethan and Avery. Growing up, Bruce lived in the Philippine Islands and Japan. He enjoys traveling, writing, skiing, chess, playing guitar, cooking and entertaining, playing tennis and golf. As a professional, Bruce has been an investment advisor for 32 years, he recommends that the best investment is an investment in our children. Heather thinks Bruce makes the best pancakes in the Whole Wide World!

Heather lives with her husband Bruce in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Heather has worked and volunteered most of her professional career in producing special events and fund raising for non profit organizations such as the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, The Santa Fe Community Foundation, and The Santa Fe Botanical Garden. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where she studied writing, art and design. Heather enjoys traveling, entertaining, decorating, hiking and playing tennis and golf. Bruce thinks Heather is a gourmet chef and budding tennis star.

Barbara: The Artist

Santa Fe artist Barbara Cate is an illustrator of books and has a greeting card line which may be seen at and at My Pancakes Taste Different Today! showcases her latest paintings. Barbara has lived in Hawaii and enjoys teaching children. Heather and Bruce think Barbara is the bee’s knees. 2892364_orig.jpg

Purchase MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY from these fine retailers: 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media links:

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook for this review copy. Images courtesy of author’s publicist. Interior illustrations retrieved from author’s website. Pancake image retrieved from]

BookS on MondaY: Paul Tough talks about his new book, HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, grit, self-c0ntrol, the environment to keep kids motivated for success, & much more

By Leslie Lindsay  

One of my very favorite parts of my job is to get acquainted with authors and their amazing new books before they become available. Just recently, I received this lovely little gem of a book from the folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and just had to share. HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED: What Works and Why by Paul Tough (releasing tomorrow, May 24, 2016). Did you happen to read his first…er, helping,  the bestselling HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED (2012) about grit, curiosity, and character?51krgHI9h1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Grit. I love grit. And curiosity. And how those two qualities merge to develop character…I’m all over that.

Today, I am honored to sit down and have a little chat with Paul on his latest book, a slim, jam-packed, how-to (in a sense) on creating environments, both at home and school which sharpen those very qualities to help our kids flourish. This is excellent reading for teachers and parents alike.

Leslie Lindsay: What is HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED about?

Paul Tough: It’s about what children need in order to thrive – especially children growing up in difficult circumstances – and what kind of practices and policies, in the home and at school, will provide them with the best possible chance at success.

L.L.: Your last book was titled HOW CHILDREN. This one is HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED. What’s the difference?

Paul Tough:
Both books are about the same broad subject: why some children succeed and others don’t. But this new book is much more practical and specific: a clear, concise handbook with useful, everyday ideas for how best to help children do better. How Children Succeed introduced readers to an exciting new body of research showing that the traditional way we measure children’s abilities – through standardized tests of their cognitive skills – was missing a crucial dimension: the importance of so-called non-cognitive skills or character strengths, qualities like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, self-control, and optimism. Helping Children Succeed expands on that research, takes it in some new directions, and distills it into strategies to more effectively help children who grow up in adversity.

L.L.: What inspired you to write it?

Paul Tough: After HOW CHILDREN SUCEED was published, I heard from countless readers around the country – often teachers or other professionals who worked with children – asking how to put this new research into practice. HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED is my answer to those questions.

L.L.: Does the new book explain how to teach grit?

Paul Tough: Well, one of the ideas that I explore in the book is that “teaching” is probably not the best way to think about character strengths like grit or resilience or perseverance. The initial reaction of many educators, when they first encounter the research about non-cognitive abilities that I wrote about in HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED, is to try to figure out how to teach their students these skills. On one level, this instinct makes sense – if we know the best way to teach the Pythagorean theorem, can’t we also figure out the best way to teach grit? But, unfortunately, there’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity. In HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, I write about a new generation of researchers – neuroscientists, psychologists, and economists – who are questioning the idea that character strengths should be Thought of as skills at all. Instead, these researchers say, qualities like perseverance or self-control are more like psychological states or mindsets – which means they’re mostly the product of a child’s environment. So if we want to help kids to persevere, these researchers say, we need first to figure out how to improve their environment, both at home and at school.

L.L.: Why does that distinction matter?

Paul Tough: Because it changes where we put our emphasis in education and child development. If we think about grit and self-control as skills, then the pressure is on children to master these skills – just like it’s their responsibility to learn their multiplication tables. But if instead we think of these qualities as byproducts of a child’s environment, then the responsibility is on us, the adults surrounding that child, to figure out how to change his environment in ways that will help him succeed. That approach is not only more scientifically accurate and more likely to be effective, it’s also more fair.

L.L.: Which environments matter most in developing these capacities?

Paul Tough: First, the home environment, especially in early childhood. Neuroscientists have conclusively demonstrated in recent years that when children spend their early years in environments that subject them to toxic levels of stress, it can impair the development of certain mental capacities that matter a whole lot when they get to school – the ability to manage strong emotions, to process complex instructions, to bounce back from disappointments. That research convinced me that part of the solution to our persistent educational gaps has to be found in early childhood. Right now, our early childhood policies put very little emphasis on how to create the nurturing home environments that foster those skills. And most of our schools don’t have the tools or the capacity to help kids who arrive in kindergarten without having experienced that kind of environment at home in their early years.

L.L.: If children don’t develop those capacities at home, can schools really help?

How-Children-Succeed-HiPaul Tough: Absolutely. But it may require some strategies and approaches that right now are quite rare in American schools. In HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, I write about an emerging school of thought in educational psychology that focuses on the importance of students’ motivations and mindset. For a long time, motivation has been the missing piece in our educational thinking. Ask any teacher, especially teachers working with children in poverty, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Some of my students don’t seem motivated to succeed. I know if they apply themselves they’ll do better. But I don’t know how to get them to apply themselves. Now these researchers are finding some answers to this longstanding dilemma. They’re showing that students, especially those growing up in adverse environments, aren’t deeply motivated by the kind of reward-and-punishment structures that prevail at most schools. Instead, these researchers have discovered, students are more often motivated by deeper psychological needs: the need to feel connected, to feel capable, to feel competent. Schools can’t produce those feelings in students just through slogans or posters or assemblies. Students have to genuinely perceive that the adults in their school building care about them and think they can succeed. Students need to feel like they belong. And they have to feel that the work they’re doing is meaningful and challenging, and that they’re able to get better at it when they work hard.

L.L.: So what should schools do differently?

Paul Tough: Instead of just thinking about the academic content that they are delivering to their students, school leaders should also be thinking about the messages that students are receiving implicitly and explicitly from their teachers and their school environment. That might seem touchy-feely, but in fact the new research in educational psychology shows that for young people – and especially young people growing up in family poverty or other adverse circumstances – those messages are enormously important. They change the way students conceive of themselves and their purpose in school. Which in turn has a huge impact on how they behave: how likely they are to persevere, to apply themselves, to recover from setbacks.

L.L.: Your book is mostly about children who grow up in poverty. What about other children – middleclass or upper-middle-class kids? Does this research have any relevance for them and their parents?

Paul Tough: Definitely. My wife and I have two sons, and encountering this research has had a big effect on how I think about raising them. The younger one is just a year old, and since his very first days, my wife and I have spent a lot of time thinking and talking (and occasionally worrying) about the research on stress and its effect on early brain development. It’s been powerful to realize that the environment we are creating for him – the way we talk to him, the schedules and patterns we set, the mood in our home – is influencing his development in a profound way, on a neurobiological level. And when I began reporting this book, my older son had just started kindergarten at the public school in the small town where we live. This research has given me a new lens through which to consider his school experience. I’m much more inclined now to think not just about the facts and information and skills that he’s learning, but also to consider how his experience in school is shaping his psychology as a student and as a person: what it’s teaching him about belonging and challenge and community and purpose. I’m convinced that those lessons – which are often conveyed by schools and teachers very subtly, sometimes even unintentionally – are every bit as important as the lessons he’s getting in adding and subtracting and reading and writing.

L.L.: What are your hopes for this book?

Paul Tough: My first hope is that a lot of people will read it! I think there’s valuable information in HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED that can potentially improve the way that teachers and parents and community leaders engage with the children in their care. And so Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and I are publishing this book in an unusual way. We’re putting it out as a regular hardcover book and e-book and audiobook, sold and distributed in all the usual ways, in independent bookstores and chain bookstores and online. But then, at the same time, thanks to the support of a number of charitable foundations that are committed to increasing opportunities for children growing up in adversity, we are also making the contents of the book available as a free downloadable PDF and as a scrolling web article, both of which will be accessible on my website. We felt it was important for readers to be able to access the information in this book in as many different forms as possible. And because part of our goal is to reach families and teachers who are working with kids in poverty, we wanted to make sure that the cost of a hardcover book wouldn’t be a barrier to any potential reader. On a deeper level, my hope for this book is that it will – and beyond that, that it might help to shift the national conversation about what we can all do to help our most vulnerable children to succeed.

PAUL TOUGH Paul Tough’s last book was HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and was translated into 27 languages. He is also the author of WHATEVER IT TAKES: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to the public-radio program This American Life. You can learn more about his work at and follow him on Twitter @paultough.

[Author photo credit: Paul Terefenko/The Lavin Agency. Cover image retrieved from author’s website. Special thanks to HMH/L. Meglio and T. Roeder]

Write on Wednesday: Sharon Guskin talks about her smashing novel THE FORGETTING TIME, reincarnation, how novels are like magnets, crawling around the dark with a flashlight, eliminating 80 pages, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE FORGETTING TIME is a jaw-dropping, intelligent novel about the power of love, reincarnation, and motherhood.

What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, the consequences unfolding against continents, decades, and race? What if you are a mother who will stop at nothing for her young son, the one who wants to go home, the only trouble is: he’s already there? Guskin_cover_final

Everything with Noah is hard. His mother, Janie will concur. He’s terrified of water, so getting him to bathe is a battle she chooses to ignore. He smells and says odd things to classmates at his preschool. What’s more, he has debilitating nightmares that often scares Janie, too. But no one knows how to help Noah. Until we meet Jerome Alexander, M.D. a man who has his share of worries, but is quite intrigued with the scientific aspects of reincarnation. In fact, he’s spent his life’s work on tracking down such cases, researching, and writing about it.

What Sharon Guskin has done for THE FORGETTING TIME will leave you breathless in an evocative, page-turning character-driven thriller with motherhood smack at the heart.

Today, I am honored to have Sharon with us today.

Leslie Lindsay: Sharon, I just finished THE FORGETTING TIME last night and I have to say…wow! I almost feel like I need a little time to digest. What inspired you to write this story?

Sharon Guskin: Thanks so much! I’ve always been interested in the question of what happens when we die — who isn’t, really? I wasn’t freaked out by death — I’m not sure why. When my kids were small, I started volunteering at a hospice; I thought it was something useful to do, and I was drawn to the work. Spending time with people who were facing imminent death, I started to “wake up” in a way. Part of it was realizing how precious life is, but I also had a sense of — there’s more. Isn’t there? I think there’s more. Why aren’t we talking more about that?

Around this time, a friend gave me this book, “Old Souls,” in which a Washington Post reporter follows Dr. Ian Stevenson around as he investigates his cases. Dr. Stevenson was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia who spent decades of his life researching very 150px-Ian_Stevensonyoung children who made numerous specific statements about having a previous lifetime, and he was able to match those statements with actual people who had died.  These cases are amazing, so compelling — there are almost 3,000 of them so far. One child said, for instance, that in a previous life she lived near the Kelaniya Temple (in a village far from where she lived at the time); that she was a man who sold Ambiga and Geta Pichcha incense, and she was hit by a truck riding her bicycle and died.  And they found someone in a village near that temple who fit all of those statements, and when they took the child to that village she was able to identify people and things there. So these cases blew my mind, and I started to wonder where my own children’s very different personalities, attractions and repulsions came from — how much were they really my children, after all? And this story started coming to me, of a skeptical single mom whose four year old son is longing for another mother, and the scientist who helps her.  And I started to write this book.

L.L.: There’s a lot going on in THE FORGETTING TIME, but it’s handled so well. There’s motherhood, reincarnation, missing children, redemption…and probably more! Was there one aspect of writing that you found more challenging? Easier?

Sharon Guskin: It’s funny to say, but the character of Janie, the Brooklyn mom, was the most difficult for me to get right. I’m a Brooklyn mom, so you’d think maybe she’d be easier to understand! Eventually I had to change her personality so that she was even less like me — I made her an architect, for instance, instead of an artist. Other characters, like Denise, just showed up, and seemed right away to me to be real people, and it was easy to write them.  There are also characters who have undergone deep loss in the book, and writing about that was a very emotional experience, so it was challenging in that way.

Reincarnation was an overwhelming topic — I kept reading and reading and still feeling as if I had so much more to learn. So eventually I had to let go of the research and just tell my story, and the story of these cases, the best way I could.

“Bold, captivating…Guskin amps up the suspense while raising provocative questions about the maternal bond and its limits…you’ll be mesmerized.”
People Magazine (Book of the Week)

L.L.: Was the character of Noah based on any particular child in your life? A composite of your own children, perhaps?

Sharon Guskin: Ha, guess I’m busted — yes, Noah’s sense of humor comes from my own children — they are funnier and sillier than I am and have a wonderful sense of wordplay. And they both love baseball. My younger son is also very exuberant and has blonde hair, so there’s that. I’ve stolen some lines from him.  Noah’s sadness, nightmares, and phobias are all his own, though.

L.L.: I’m curious what kind of research you embarked upon to complete THE FORGETTING TIME? Obviously, you have some wonderful excerpts and quotes from Dr. Jim Tucker and his book, LIFE BEFORE LIFE: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives, but was there more? Can you speak to that, please?

Sharon Guskin: Oh, I read so many things — The most useful were some of Dr. Ian Stevenson’s books,  Children who Remember Previous Lifetimes, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, and Reincarnation and Biology….both of Dr. Tucker’s books, Life before Life and Return to Life, Children’s Past Lives by Carol Bowman, Old Souls by Tom Schroder, Soul Survivor by the Bruce and Andrea LeiningerDeath and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life after Death was a fascinating book by Philosophy Professor Robert Almeder.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you plot and plan, or do you let the pen do the work? Do you have any writing routines or rituals?

Sharon Guskin: My first writing teacher, Peter Matthiessen used to talk about a “magnet” that pulls one through a book, and that’s what I focus on when I write: a sense of what the end of the book might feel like, and in a general way who the characters are, what their struggles might be, where I want them to end up, emotionally, thematically. But it’s vague, more intuitive and musical than concrete. I can’t plot too specifically, or it all dies on the page.  So most of the time I’m crawling through the darkness with a tiny flashlight, trying to figure out where I am and where I’m going.

I drink lots of coffee — does that count as a ritual? And I go to a writer’s room, or a cafe, to get out of my house. I sometimes use an app called Freedom in order to shut down the Internet when I write, because I find myself drawn to that quicksand on a regular basis. And I go to colonies whenever possible, so I can be among a community of writers and dream about my characters, and start writing in the morning immediately without having to get up and get the kids off to school.

L.L.: Can you talk a bit about your revision process?

Sharon Guskin: THE FORGETTING TIME is not the same book it was a few years ago. It has been substantially revised and improved. I rewrote it a couple of times before I sold it, and then three times afterwards, for my editor. I added a number of pages and then ended up taking out almost 80 pages in the last go-round, which was a bit painful; in fact, when my editor asked me to remove the pages, I felt resistant initially and gave the book to a number of friends to read.  A month later, I checked in with them and they all said lovely things about the book, but none of them had finished it. Where’d you stop reading? I asked — and all of them had stopped right before my eighty page flashback. So I realized I had a speed bump.  I loved those pages, but most of them had to go — I moved some of the material later in the book and took out the rest, and since then people don’t seem to have a problem finishing this book.

“For fans of Cloud Atlas and The Lovely Bones, this psychological mystery will have you hooked until the case is closed…Or is it?”

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?

Sharon Guskin: I’m obsessed with imagining and writing about exalted spiritual inner states; for instance, what might enlightenment feel like? I can’t know, at present, but it’s fun to try to imagine. I’m reading Peter Matthiessen’s NINE HEADED DRAGON RIVER, his journals about his Buddhist practice, and an interesting book called “An Experience of Enlightenment” about a young woman without a religious context who started to ask herself, “What is ultimate reality?”

I’m also beginning the next book, which has a character just out from prison and another who is an undocumented immigrant, so I’m diving into those worlds.

L.L.: What books—fiction and non-fiction—would recommend for someone interested in learning more about reincarnation?

Sharon Guskin: Nonfiction:“Life Before Life” and “Return to Life,” two books by Dr. Jim Tucker, give a very clear and engaging presentation of this work and of his methodology.

51nfXLXuklL._AA160_(“Return to Life” is focused on American cases.)

“Old Souls” by Tom Shroder (a former Washington Post reporter) provides a wonderful portrait of Dr. Stevenson and his work.41VQt4oJDHL._AA160_

Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” and “Children Who Remember Previous Lives,” are slightly more academic books by Dr. Ian Stevenson about this phenomenon.

Children’s Past Lives” by Carol Bowman gives a different, more therapeutically- oriented approach to this topic; she does past-life regression therapy as well. “Soul Survivor” by Bruce and Andrea Leininger tells the gripping story of their young son, who remembered a life as a World War II fighter pilot.

Fiction: Often reincarnation books fall into a fantasy genre, or the theme is used more as a metaphor or a stylistic device. (Mine is neither, really.) That said, “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is beautifully done; “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki is not about reincarnation but its themes are both Buddhist and Quantum Physics related, and I found the book really captivating intellectually and emotionally. “The Incarnations” by Susan 61sEWVN+uPL._AA160_Barker just came out recently, and I haven’t read it yet, but it seems wonderful.

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Sharon Guskin: On book tour, people ask me, what do you believe now?

When I started the novel, I was merely curious about these cases; I wanted to know more, and I thought people might be interested in them.

But after spending so long studying them, and getting to know the very conscientious and rational Dr. Tucker, I started to think:  Maybe these cases are real, and it’s true. What if it’s true?

What if we were born before, and will be born again? What does that mean for how we live our lives?

I’m not in the business of giving answers; novelists ask questions above all. Everyone has to ask their own questions and find their own path. And you don’t need to believe in reincarnation to enjoy this book — it’s just a story, after all!  But I think it’s an interesting question for all of us to ponder.

L.L.: Sharon, thank you so much for being with us today. It was such a pleasure!

Sharon Guskin:  Thanks so much! Thrilled to be here.

For more information, or to follow Sharon on Social Media, please see:

Twitter: @SGuskin

is the author of the debut novel, THE FORGETTING TIME. In addition to writing fiction, she has worked as a writer and producer of award-winning documentary films, including STOLEN and ON MEDITATION. She began exploring the ideas examined in THE FORGETTING TIME when she worked at a refugee camp in Thailand as a young woman and, later, served as a hospice volunteer soon after the birth of her first child. She’s been a fellow at Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and Ragdale, and has degrees from Yale University and the Columbia University School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons. 

[Special thanks to Flatiron books. Author and cover image courtesy of S. Guskin. Author photo credit: David Jacobs.Images of books about reincarnation retrieved from Amazon on 4.3.16. Dr. Ian Stevenson image retrieved from Wikipedia on 4.3.16]


In My Brain Today: The Value of the Childhood Swing Set

By Leslie Lindsay

[This post originally aired on 5.27.14 on my other site, Repeated here for fun and well, it’s still in my brain].

I don’t know about you, but I have about a million and eight memories on my childhood swingset. Juicy, sticky twin-pops running orange and cheery and grape flavored sugar water down my wrists and puddling in that little space on the other side of my elbow. Of course there was the putting the damn thing together, a project in which I heard my dad curse for the first time, the metal parts lined up a jumble that no man could disentangle.

“Don’t ever say that word,” he cautioned.

“Oh? Okay.” I didn’t even know what gosh-dang-it, or rumpy-pumpy-poo-poo-head meant, but it didn’t sound good. Note to self: don’t put together a swing set lest you’ll spew out words that make no sense.

I recall swinging back and forth on the double-sided glider thing-y and feeling like the whole swing set would pull right out of the ground and topple over because we had two kids and one chunky kid on one side and a single skinny pole-like kid on the other. Balance. All things in balance.

Skipping rungs across the monkey bars did not yield me a monkey, but a cripple. Yes, I twisted down, slapped my forearm on the base of the swing set and–bam–broke my arm. These were the days of heavy plaster casts, mind you and it was the summer I was five. No more swimming or sprinkers for me, and certainly not monkey bars. And when the cast came off, my arm was atrophied, extra-white and smelly. Yes, a lovely dead smell wafted from my monkey arm.

But I got some cool signatures and drawings on that cast, most of them from my parents and Cabbage Patch dolls.

When I was little–really little–I taught myself the ABCs while pumping my teeny cable-knit knee-highs up and down; it was then that I learned lmnop was really one word, onereallylongandsillyword.

Creating a water slide using a hose at the top of the metal and allowing it to rest at the top, the water pouring from the hose down the side of the slide and into the baby pool at the bottom: dumb. The rungs get wet, slick feet do not grip, wedgies ensue. And the ride down: nothing like it was at Wet-Willies.

But here’s the thing: there are a lot of lessons to be learned on the swing set:

  • Life is all about balance
  • And sweet things. Or at least looking for the sweetness as it drips from your blood, sweat, and tears (or, your twinpop)
  • Bad words are bad. They are a disturbing noise to hear from your father’s lips and they are even more disgusting from a child’s.
  • Water makes life delicate. Use with caution.
  • Don’t show off, lest you break a bone and get a smelly arm. And who wants that?!
  • The alphabet is only a series of 26 letters which allows human beings with a properly functioning prefrontal cortex to create an infinite number of words and phrases, stories and songs, and a fantastically satisfying way to express ourselves to the world. And that may be the best lesson of the swing set yet.

That’s it…class dismissed!

[This post inspired by a passage in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green (2012). See page 124, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS becomes a movie soon–June 3rd and you can bet I’ll be there., swing set image retrieved from on 5.27.14]



The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series

By Leslie Lindsay

Has your summer flown by…or are you counting down the days till your wee ones head back? Perhaps you’re worried about a few things–maybe your child is starting a new school…or, she’s not very good at making first impressions, staying organized, or playing fair.  Now’s the perfect time to begin working with your child on some of those skills as you polish up the back-to-school shoes and shop for glue sticks. 

Follow along as we discuss a different topic related to school readiness each week now through the August.  Topics include:

  • Back to School Stress & Anxiety
  • Easy Transitioning to a New Grade or School
  • Social Skills & 1st  Impressions
  • Organizational & Memory Strategies
  • Self-Esteem & Positive Behavior
  • Playing Fair & Respecting Others

[if you have a child with apraxia, or another special need, please remember to follow along on www.speakingofapraxia on Mondays for apraxia-specific back-to-school tips beginning 8/5/13.  With a combination of these and the apraxia tips, your family will be ready for success!]

Without further adieu…here’s a little refresher on back-to-school stress & anxiety:

Simply put, anxiety is fueled by anything unknown or new.  Think of the times you feel anxious–navigating in a new city, being late for an appointment, not having enouugh time or money to do a job effectively.  The feelings can be similar for your children.  For young kiddos, everything about school is anxiety -producing: who will be in my class?  Is the teacher nice?  What is my teacher’s name?  The building, the routine, where the bathrooms are–it’s all new and unknown, even for older kids.  Here’s what you can do to asauge the anxiety:

  • Talk with your child.  Ask very simply and neutrally, “What do you think school will be like?”  Your child may shrug and say, “I don’t know.”  Try not to fuel more anxiety by ‘offering’ what your child may be anxious about, instead share very matter-of-factly what is involved.  “You will go to ____ school.  We will find out your teacher’s name and get the class list on ____.”   That my appease her for now. 
  • If you know ahead of time who will be in the classroom with your child, invite them over for a playdate before the first day.  When your children see one another tucked behind desks, they will immediatly have a connection.
  • Drive by the school on your way home from errands or a family outing.  Pack a picnic, stop and have lunch there and then play on the playground equipment.  My family has taken a bike ride to our school to do just that. 
  • Be sure to attend the fall preview days/evenings at your school.  Most schools offer these important dates to get to know the school building, meet familiar faces, possibly even meet the teacher and see other classmates.  Go.
  • Do a practice round of the morning routine.  Summer’s great for lounging around and free-sleeping, but there comes a day when everyone must be on a routine again.  Practice it once a week before school starts so everyone can start to get in the habit. 
  • Try reversing roles.  Have your child be the parent and you be the 1st grader (or whatever grade your little one is entering)…ask child-like questions to your little parent.  “What if I need to use the potty when I am at school?”  Your kiddo will likely give you a good answer.  Plus, kids get a kick out of being the parent for a change. 
  • If role-play isn’t your thing, suggest a real-life version of playing school.  Have your  child invite some friends over and let them have at it.  This works well with stuffed animals or dolls, too.  You can help with set-up by suggesting some therapeutic play ideas…remember, your students may need bathroom and drink breaks.  They may like a story.  Pack a lunch and suggest “students” eat in the “cafeteria.” 
  • Practice the Good-bye and welcome home.  Plan ahead how you will get your child to school each day.  If a bus, maybe plan to say your good-byes at home so as not to embarrass your child at the bus stop.  Will you have a specific ritual or saying each time?  “See ya later, alligator!” or “Have fun, be good!”  If you drop your child off via family vehicle, you may want to do a practice round…how much time does it take to get to school?  Daycare or latch-key kids have a different routine, too.  Discuss these plans ahead of time with your little ones.  Make sure they are comfortable with the house keys or garage code and what to do to remain safe if at home alone, or biking/walking alone. 

When anxiety becomes troublesome–you’ll know.  If your child withdrawls completely, gets sick, complains of frequent headaches, tummy aches, sleeps more or less, over-or under-eats, gets overly angry you may be dealing with a more extreme case of anxiety.  Be sure to talk with your pediatrician or another trusted source.  ***Remember, some anxiety is normal and healthy!  Most kids get over their school anxiety in about a month of school starting. 

That’s it!  Class dismissed : )

The Teacher is Talking: Establishing Rules for Summer

By Leslie Lindsay (image source:

We try to be timely and topical here on “The Teacher is Talking,” so with that in mind, I’d like to share with you a little glimpse of our Sunday morning family meeting.  The topic:  summer rules and expectations. 

Kate, my 2nd grader and her little sister, Kelly (kindergarten) affectionately refer to themseleves as “red-year-olds,” are sitting around our round kitchen table grasping at breakfast items, lifing their skinny little bottoms up out of their chairs when my husband and I locked eyes across the table.  “I think it’s time to talk about summer rules and expectations,” he grumbled. 

That got the red-year-olds attention.  They sat down and looked at their daddy, “What do you mean?” 

“He means,” I pause and look to the girls, “That summer is not going to be a free for all.  We’ll have rules, boundaries…but also some fun.” 

The four of us mapped out some summer rules (we’ll call them expectations–it sounds less jail-like that way) and some fun challenges…as well as rewards/fun things to do. 

Here’s our Rule List: 

  • Use the garage door only.  (NO kitchen door, no front door)
  • Shoes have a place–in your bin in the laundry room.
  • Do not feed friends without asking first (their parents as well as yours–think allergies!)
  • Stay in sight of the house at all times.
  • If you go farther from house, ask an adult
  • Use the buddy system
  • You will given a warning before it’s time to come in.  Use that time to clean up and say good-bye to friends
  • You should spend at least 30 minutes a day reading or doing something academic

Fun Activities/Challenges:

  • Get all the way across the monkey bars (that’s for our kindergartner)
  • Read a Junie B. Jones book on own all the way through
  • Participate in an orienteering project created by dad
  • Okay, there’s more…just not remembering everything!

Rewards (girls earn points for completing the above challenges.  Points can be applied to rewards):

  • A trip to the rock climbing place
  • Bounce Town
  • Special 1:1 with a parent
  • Have a friend over
  • Go swimming
  • Slumber party
  • Go to the movies

The girls seem game for something like this.  Whew!  : )  Today, I stocked up on poster board, glitter glue pens, stickers, and markers.  Over the course of the next few evenings we’ll work on our boards and when summer’s out–we’ve got it in the bag!

Remember, keep your discussion about summer activities and expectations open, fun, and then post in a highly visual place (accessible)…because out of sight, out of mind!

Class dismissed! 



Apraxia Monday: Staying *Focused* on Daily Routines

By Leslie Lindsay

(image source:

Today I would like to introduce a new resource:  The Focus Foundation (  It’s goal–to identify and help children who have X and Y Variations, Dyslexia and/or Developmental Dyspraxia (also called childhood apraxia of speech/CAS/apraxia).  They focus on bringing awareness to the “forgotten child.” 

I am honored to be invited to speak at their third annual Atypical Learner’s Conference in Annapolis, MD.  My topic:  apraxia, of course!  But as we all know, apraxia is more than just apraxia, it’s a big ball of wax.  So, to narrow it down a bit, I will be speaking on innovative ways in working with CAS.  Sounds like fun…and a bit of of a challenge!

When I think of innovation, what comes to mind is technology.  Nothing needs to be fancy here, no siree…but fun, hands-on, interactive and motor-based and parent involved speech practice.  (In fact, there may be a little technology if you go the route of an iPad for speech apps). 

If you are a fan of Speaking of Apraxia (Woodbine House, 2012), then you already know I am a huge proponenet of having fun and going about your typical, everyday routines while “sneaking” in speech practice.   (image source:

Here are some ideas:

  • In the morning shuffle, why not have your child name the items of clothing she is putting on?  “Here is my shirt.  Now my pants.”  Meet your child where she is at.  Are those words/phrases too difficult?  Tailor it for your child.  Instead of “pants,” say /p/. 
  • If you have a pet, can your child feed or groom the animal?  Have him say, “Soft fur,” or a variation of as he pets the kitty or brushes the dog. 
  • At breakfast, have your child identify what she wants to eat.  You may have to create cards (Boardmaker or use the Clip Art function of your home computer) to depict different types of breakfast food choices (cereal, oatmeal, waffle, yogurt, fruit, etc).  Laminate it if you are so inclined and then have your child point to and attempt to say those choices. 
  • Ready to go?  A friend of mine created a board in which her four children can take a quick glance to make sure they have everything ready to go for the day.  Backpack, shoes, coat, library books, etc.  Again, think clip art and Boardmaker.  Can your child practice saying some of those words? 
  • Don’t forget the car as a place to practice speech!  If you drive your child to school, use this as an opportunity to practice funtional daily phrases like, “My name is ___.”  “Bye-bye”  “Wait for me!”  “Can you play?”  If you child is older, go ahead and practice some other developmenally appropriate words/phrases/spelling words.

There are plently more opportunities to “sneak” in speech practice…what are some of your favorites? 

For more information:

Apraxia Monday: Interview with Melanie Feller, CCC-SLP

By Leslie Lindsay

I am excited to introduce Melanie Feller, CCC-SLP to “Apraxia Monday.”  Melanie’s article, “7 Common Myths of Childhood Apraxia of Speech” recently appeared on Special Education Advisor and featured on PediaStaff as a “Worth Repeating” article.  Melanie hails from New Jersey and is currently in Oregon for a professional opportunity.  She continues to practice pediatric speech-language pathology in both locations. 

L4K:  When and how did you get interested in the field of pediatric speech pathology?   Can you tell us a bit about your educational background?  How long have you been a practicing SLP?  (image source:  This is not a photo of Melanie or her practice.  The author(s) have no relationship with this company or individuals). 

Melanie, CCC-SLP: As a senior in college. I was a history major, interested in anything but history, and desperately worried about what I would go to graduate school for.  After discovering a book on graduate schools, I came across “communication disorders” in a list of majors, and decided to do some research.  The information I discovered spoke to me, and I went on an observation to see speech therapy in action.  And then I fell in love. Watching that speech pathologist work with a tiny three year old changed my life forever. 

I have a Masters degree from Kean University in Speech Language Pathology and have been practicing for 9 years

I specialize in CAS, as well as overall language delay and disorder and see clients of all ages, but primarily those from 0-12.   For the younger clients, my model is based on play therapy, and I use many aspects of Floortime within my sessions. I am looking forward to starting the Floortime certification process soon! The goal of my practice is to provide therapy that is effective, efficient, and most of all, fun and kind!

This treatment emphasizes emotional development.

L4K: Your area of interest and expertise has a lot to do with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). Can you tell us a little about your interest in such a complex speech disorder?  Do you have personal experience with apraxia?  (image source: The author(s) have no known affiliation with Special Ed Post. For your information only).

My first experience with CAS came about in graduate school.  One of my first clients was a seven-year-old child who didn’t speak. No-one seemed to know why, and everyone had assumed he was unable to.  I remember thinking he demonstrated all the signs of a disorder I had recently learned about, and I thought it would be interesting to treat him as such (speech therapy for apraxia is, as you know, very specific) and see if I could be the one to get him to talk!  And the funny thing is, within a month, he started to use sounds, and within two months, he was using some words.  That’s how I first discovered the wonders of diagnosing and treating verbal apraxia, and it’s only taken off since then.  I find it endlessly fascinating and a joy to work with.  There’s something about watching someone literally learn how to move his mouth to form sounds, and how to coordinate that movement to produce strings of sounds that I find incredibly satisfying and fulfilling.

L4K: The early stages a parent experiences when first learning of their child’s CAS diagnosis can be very challenging.  How—and what—would you say to a parent just learning the diagnosis? 

Melanie, CCC-SLP:        

#1) I would say “Don’t Panic!!!!” That is the most important thing. Panic leads people to do all sorts of things, and that is not a good mentality when entering the world of treatment for CAS.

#2)  I would also offer that virtually every child can communicate in some manner, and no-one should be telling a parent that their child will never talk because he has CAS. That’s not just dishonest, it’s unreasonable. As SLP’s, we cannot make a final judgment as to what the outcome of therapeutic intervention will be. While we cannot offer false hope, we can also not say that there is no hope at all.

#3)  I would offer that it is important to ensure that the child received an accurate diagnosis. CAS is sadly frequently mis-diagnosed. Too many children are under (or over) diagnosed, leading to all sorts of issues.  Sometimes a second opinion is an excellent option.

L4K: With your article, “The 7 Most Common Myths of CAS,” which myth would you say is the most common? 

Melanie, CCC-SLP: I would say the most common [myth] is the first [one listed], that an expressive language delay must mean the child has CAS.    As I previously said, CAS is frequently under or over diagnosed, and as a result children with a simple expressive delay are being told they have a rather involved disorder, while those who have that rather involved disorder are told they’re just late talkers, and need to have just a little speech therapy (or maybe none at all) to be “ok.”

L4K: Your company, Alphabet Soup Speech (cute name, by-the-way), focuses on treating children (up to age 21) for speech/language disorders in a traditional in-person approach, but a large part of your practice is done remotely, a growing trend known as telepractice.  Can you tell us a little about how that evolved?  

Melanie, CCC-SLP: Thank you!  It first started when I discovered that many families were unable to obtain speech services due to time or distance constraints.  I had seen an article about telepractice, and realized that it would be great to be able to offer therapy remotely.  It’s also a wonderful option for me, as it allows me to see clients I might not normally have the time to see, or who might be too far away.

L4K: If someone was interested in telepractice (sometimes referred to as telehealth practice), how would they go about requesting those services?  Is it effective for everybody? 

Students work with Leah who is providing Speech services live from BGSU

Students work with Leah who is providing Speech services live from BGSU

(image source:  The author(s) have no known affiliation with Hicksville Schools or Bowling Green University.  For your informationation purposes only). 

Melanie, CCC-SLP: It can be a bit difficult to find. The best way may be to contact a particular therapist, and see if they offer that service. Many therapists that offer telpractice now list it on their websites as well When someone visits my website, they’ll see telepractice written, with a brief explanation. They can call via phone or email me to discuss their concerns for their child and I’ll make a determination as to whether or not teletherapy might be appropriate.  It works very well with children 6+. For younger children, I can provide parents with consultation services. If we agree that it’s a good fit, we can “meet” online and discuss their child’s particular needs.  The meeting also gives me an opportunity to watch the child communicate, and observe how the parent and child interact.   From that I can provide tips and ideas on how the family can work directly with the child.

Online parent education classes are also in the works! I anticipate that these will be very useful to individuals and small groups who want to learn more about milestones, ways to encourage language building, and red flags to watch out for; all while remaining in the comfort of their particular location.

L4K: What are some of your favorite parent-friendly resources for families walking the apraxia path? 

First off, be careful of just entering “apraxia” on a search engine! There’s lots of mis-information out there, and lots of information that seems to only serve to scare parents, and make them think they have a hopeless, never-ending situation on their hands! 

Some parent friendly resources:   

  • The ASHA (American Speech Language and Hearing Association) page on verbal apraxia offers honest, straightforward, and easy to understand information They also provide a practitioner search engine for the public. Enter your zip code and they’ll give you a list of ASHA certified speech pathologists in your area.
  • The Apraxia-Kids website offers lots and lots of information – it can be overwhelming at times but overall it’s a great resource.
  • Speaking of Apraxia (Woodbine House, 2012)  There aren’t a lot of good books out there that are accurate, and specifically speak of apraxia on a friendly level (i.e. not a textbook). I’d be interested to know from your readers if there are any books they like that I haven’t heard of!

L4K: Where can readers learn more about you?  Do you blog?  Have a website?  Facebook page?  Twitter account? 

Melanie, CCC-SLP: There are lots of ways! 

  • Website:  I am in the process of updating it and am looking forward to a “new and improved” site soon 
  • Facebook: Alphabet Soup Speech Consultants, LLC.
  • Twitter
  • My blog is in the process of being revamped, and I will be blogging again by early spring
    Photo: Life is not a destination...It's a Journey.<br /><br />
However, do n't expect everyone to understand your journey, especially if they've never walked your path.

Many thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Melanie.  Your time and expertise is much appreciated.  Best wishes on your journey!—Leslie : )