Teaching Our Kids Gratitude: A Simple Way to Keep a Family Journal

Teaching Our Kids Gratitude: A Simple Way to Keep a Family Journal


By Mattie Barron

Journaling is a great way to document your life. When I younger and playing at a friend’s house, I remember her mother gathering the whole family, including me, to discuss our days with one another. She brought out a notebook and asked each one of us the sweet, sour, and spiritual parts of our day. She wrote our responses in the notebook.

I LOVED this! I was blown away at how simple, yet substantial, this type of journaling was. It allowed us to reflect and capture just about all that occurred in our day. In that moment, I realized journaling doesn’t have to be pages of in-depth entries. It can be three simple lines that highlight our day.

That day, I began documenting the sweet, sour, and spiritual parts of my day in my own journal. In recent years, I have added service and silly moments of my day as well. I now like to call it “The 5S Journal” (sweet, sour, spiritual, service, and silly). Instead of documenting life on a phone, writing it down, makes it more valuable and easily accessible to look back on and remember moments that occurred in your life.

Expressing gratitude through a journal benefits families and children because “grateful people [have] less depression and anxiety and greater family quality of life” (Stoeckel and Weissbrod, 2015). Also, as you keep a gratitude journal, you will “report greater life satisfaction and positive affect” in your life (Stoeckel and Weissbrod, 2015).

It’s a reciprocal process. As you open your eyes to the 5 S’s, the more visible they will become. And as you and your kids express gratitude, the more grateful each of you will become. As we keep a gratitude journal in our families, our children will begin to understand the significant impact gratitude has on our lives.

How to Teach the 5 S’s of Gratitude to Our Kids:

Sweet – The sweet times are the easiest to recall. As we reflect on the sweet times, we are unconsciously already expressing our gratitude. Teach your kids how to reflect on the sweet times. With younger kids, you can ask them “What made you happy today?” For older kids, you can ask them “What was the best part of your day?” These questions will help guide the discussion of the sweet times.  

Sour – As we state and reflect on our tough times, we became even more grateful for the sweet times. Also, sour moments often will represent an overall larger trial we may be facing. Showing gratitude during the tougher times will enhance our attitude and coping during those times. Documenting the sour times and looking back on them after the trial has passed also can help teach children the perspective that trials are preparing and shaping us in a way that leads us to an undeniably better path. You can ask younger children, “What didn’t you like about your day?” and older children, “What was the worst part of your day?”

Spiritual – This is unique to your own personal belief system. You can ask your children, “How do you feel today?” or “How do you feel toward your inner self?” or “What characteristics and values of yours are you grateful for today?”

Service – Whether you did an act of service or were the recipient of service, each opportunity and/or act is a chance to practice gratitude. Acknowledging your children’s good deeds will help your children recognize service is necessary and one of life’s great opportunities.

During the holiday season, we often see individuals standing in front of grocery stores ringing a bell and asking for donations. When I was a child and went grocery shopping with my mother, she never hesitated to give a few dollars. Because of her example, I grew up donating as well. A simple, positive role model in service will motivate your children to participate in service activities themselves. Help them reflect on their feelings associated with service by asking, “How did this opportunity to give make you feel?”

Silly – I’ve recently added this due to the fact that my family makes humor a priority. We love to laugh and make each other laugh. Laughter should be just as appreciated as the other S’s. Teach your children the value of uplifting laughter. To help them recognize its significance, ask them, “How did laughing as a family make you feel? Do you feel closer together?”

This journal is an overall great way to for families to express their gratitude while also reflecting on their day. It’s a win-win.

How to Make the 5S Journal a Priority:

  1. Buy a journal for the whole family to share. If possible take your kids on this outing and have them help pick it out. If your kids are older, they may wish to have their own journal in which to record events.
  2. Print out a few family pictures and ask each child to help personalize/decorate the journal.
  3. Set a specific time every night that is designated to reflecting on each family members’ day. Consider setting an alarm to remind you.
  4. Place the journal where it is visible to all family members.
  5. Be as mindful as possible throughout your day. Knowing you’re going to be talking about specific parts of your day will help you better look for and retain the moments you desire to share.  But don’t beat yourself up on those days that fly by without being able to recall anything super significant.
  6. Have Mom or Dad write what each member says This way every member is voicing their day rather than passing the journal to just have everyone write in it.
  7. Keep it simple. Each daily entry might be only 1-3 lines per family member or maybe even five words.
  8. As years pass, take time to look back in your family journal and reflect with your family on the great and not-so-great moments that have made your family unique and special.

The 5S journal was an answer to me on how to keep track of my grateful heart. Implementing this journal into your family life can help you teach your kids to appreciate all events that occur in their lives rather than simply being grateful for only the sweeter moments. Looking for more ways to teach your kids gratitude, community, empathy, and more? Check out our book, 30 Days to a Stronger Child. Featuring great discussions and activities, you can find it here.

Available in print or Kindle.


Mattie Barron is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Marriage and Family Studies. She is from Tri-cities, WA and has a passion to help create and ignite strong families. She hopes to work in the school system and aid in the support of children and families.



Stoeckel, M., Weissbrod, C., & Ahrens, A. (2015). The Adolescent Response to Parental Illness: The Influene of Dispositional Gratitude. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 24(5), 1501-1509.

Lesson: Helping Your Child Develop Empathy

Lesson: Helping Your Child Develop Empathy


Empathy is a critical component in developing emotional intelligence. We develop this skill as we become aware of other people’s feelings, needs, and concerns. Empathy is important because it helps us to understand how others are feeling and how our actions might impact them.

It’s important for building relationships with friends and family. Experts are concerned that too much screen time may be causing a decline in empathy because we are replacing the role of real live friends with virtual ones (Swanbrow, 2010).

Great Discussion Points:

Empathy is often confused with sympathy; however, they are not the same thing. Sympathy focuses on offering comfort even when you are not feeling the same emotion as the individual with whom you are interacting. Empathy goes beyond comfort and focuses on having a personal understanding and sharing emotions with someone.

Download the Lesson Here!


Looking for an engaging story that will tug at your child’s heartstrings and empower him to use technology to uplift and empower others? Check out Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good.

Available in paperback or Kindle!

Child ID Theft: Could Your Family Be At Risk?

Child ID Theft: Could Your Family Be At Risk?

What is child information and how is it vulnerable?


By Brent Scott and Dina Alexander, MS

Imagine the following situation: Your child is getting ready to go and spend some time with friends at the mall.  Before they leave you give them a hug and on their back you place a large sticker that includes your child’s name, age, nicknames, birthdate, address, social security number, banking information and other personal and private info. You may question what parent would ever do such a thing. The answer is: all of us, unless we have certain safeguards in place.

The Internet is a vast, intangible universe which our children will unavoidably explore. Unfortunately, there are predators lurking on the web waiting for children to share personal identification information (PII). PII can be any information that could be used to identify an individual. Examples include a Social Security Number, full name, driver’s license number, bank account, email address, etc. Once anonymous Internet scammers get a hold of your child’s PII, there could be a multitude of threats. Your child could face losing online accounts, having credit information stolen, or even worse, having their personal identity compromised. Children are at a serious risk for identity theft in part because of their clean financial records. A scammer can take that clean record and start fresh financially. Children are 51 times more likely to have their identity stolen than adults, according to a 2015 study by Carnegie Mellon University Cylab.   

How do children access and share information?

The growth of technology in the Digital Era has made it easy for our children to access and share information. At this point in time, it’s rare to find a teen who doesn’t have a cell phone. In fact, about 95% of American teens, ages 13 to 17, have a mobile phone and about 88% have access to a computer with online capabilities. The ease of access to the Internet allows our kids to share information whenever and wherever they would like. Some of the most popular social platforms where teens share information include Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, GroupMe, and Twitch. Children can also expose their PII through other online communities, such as gaming communities. Some children will give out information, intentionally or unintentionally, on systems such as PS4 or Xbox. These apps and communities are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to places where children can share information online.

How are children being exploited by the information they share?

As children play, watch, and stream online, they may encounter some strangers; some of these people will be on the hunt for their PII. Scammers may get them to click on a malware link, or have them give personal/account info in exchange for some reward. Kids, often believing the scammer will fulfill his promise, give up their information. Once the information is transferred, the cyber scammer can sell it on the dark web or use it to stalk, bully, or exploit the child’s identity. 


The anonymity of the cyber world allows people to bully without being identified. They can hide behind screens and keyboards, avoiding repercussions for their actions. If they do get a hold of your child’s info and are abusing them online, it should be reported right away. Read here and here for more information on Cyberbullying:


Cyber stalking is using the Internet to harass someone through repeated communication. Cyber stalkers are looking for information such as an email or location to talk to our children and possibly threaten them. 

ID Theft

When our children share their information online, knowingly or unknowingly, they are putting themselves at risk for identity theft. Using your children’s personal information, criminals can open fake accounts in their name, be charged with crimes under their name, steal financial information, and much more. Many times, this goes unnoticed by parents or guardians because many don’t think to check the status of their children’s personal information.

How to Identify and Resolve Issues Your Child May Face:

1. Monitor web use

It’s imperative to keep tabs on your child’s online activity.  It’s not nosey to be aware of what sites your child frequents, who they talk to online and what information they are putting on the web. It is not possible to always physically monitor online behavior but apps can be used to assist you in keeping track of online behavior. Along with Internet monitoring, consistently check personal financial statements to catch suspicious activity. 

2. Talk to our kids about sex earlier and more often

As soon as children begin to use tablets, phones, and iPods they are are at risk of exposure to hyper-sexualized images; it’s important to start talking to our kids about sex and the dangers of pornography at younger ages. Distributors of pornography actively seek to herd kids into their sites. Honest, open, and age appropriate conversations are a significant safety measure. Listed are some helpful  resources to help get the conversation going:

Talking to Younger Kids About Sex

Talking with Your Teen about Sex

3. Stay aware 

Stay aware of the latest apps kids are using to talk, date, and potentially bully. This can be done by a quick Google search, talking to other parents about what their children use, or simply asking your child what’s popular. The more you know, the better!

4. Enable parental controls

Many apps, online websites, and gaming platforms offer parental controls–use them! Based on your child’s activity, look into setting parental controls for their most used media sources. It can filter out a lot of nonsense, provide a history of activity, and protect them from identity theft while online.

5. Limit screen-time

The less your children are on screens, the less likely they will be targeted for identity theft or be exposed to inappropriate content. Set limits for screen time and stick to them. You should also encourage screen-free activities such as cooking together, socializing with friends or family, and joining extracurricular activities. 

6. Create a media guideline WITH your family

Creating media guidelines with the family, rather than on your own, is an inclusive, fair way to set rules. Make sure to set clear, measurable rules for which everyone is on the same page.

7. Don’t use screens as a pacifier

It can be easy for a parent to sit their child in front of a screen to save themselves from a possible headache. Don’t take the easy way out; screens should be a privilege for children, not something to get them to be quiet. 

8. Have the “difficult conversations” 

This isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Speaking to kids about the explicit content they may come across online can be awkward for parents. Check out this resource to learn more about how you can conquer this parenting challenge. 

Parents Unite

As parents, we are often overwhelmed when it comes to our kids and technology. We want to keep them safe, but we also want them to become capable, strong, intelligent adults.   The rapidly changing world of technology makes it critical for us to set specific rules for our kids, set up safety measures and parental controls on their devices, and most importantly, to talk about tough topics. As kids venture into the online world, they are bombarded by images, demands for their attention, and opportunities to compare themselves to photoshopped images of celebrities, and curated, filtered images of people who all seem to be living “perfect” lives. 

This is why we must be the first, best source of information when it comes to media, social media, gaming, and pornography–and its opposite, healthy sexuality. Some people fear that bringing these topics up will “give their kids ideas.” We want to give them ideas: healthy ones!

Give your kids the idea that you are a great source of reliable, honest information. Let them know through your words and actions that you can speak calmly, comfortably and rationally about human issues that affect all of us, namely, curiosity and sexuality. As you initiate discussions about these topics, share your personal experiences, spiritual values, and expectations kindly and thoughtfully. Your child will begin to see that you are ready to talk about “tough” topics and more importantly, listen to them. I promise you as you answer your kids’ questions openly and sincerely, they will come back to you for your wisdom and empathy.

Need Help with Tough Topics? We got you covered!


Dina Alexander is the founder and president of Educate and Empower Kids (educateempowerkids.org), an organization determined to strengthen families by teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, and healthy sexuality education—including education about the dangers of online porn. She is the creator of Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good, Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure, Messages About Me: A Journey to Healthy Body Image, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs. She received her master’s degree in recreation therapy from the University of Utah and her bachelors from Brigham Young University. She is an amazing mom and loves spending time with her husband and three kids. Together, they live in Texas.


Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, September 19). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018 | Pew Research Center. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

Power, R. Child (N/A).Identity Theft: New Evidence Indicates Identity Thieves are Targeting Children for Unused Social Security Numbers. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://www.cylab.cmu.edu/_files/pdfs/reports/2011/child-identity-theft.pdf


Real Life Lessons Learned from Beauty and the Beast

Real Life Lessons Learned from Beauty and the Beast

By Marina Spears

Recently I woke up in the middle of night, unable to sleep. I turned on the television and began to scroll through a very long “My List” on Netflix–that I never seem to have the time to watch. Since it was 3 a.m. and sleep was nowhere in sight, I decided to watch Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite films.

What an eye opener! I have always loved Belle’s character. She demonstrated strength, kindness, unselfishness, the ability to look beyond physical appearance, and most importantly the ability to see past the Beast’s faults and bring out his strengths. But this time it just felt wrong.  It wasn’t Belle’s responsibility to change the Beast, and certainly she should not be treated poorly in her attempt to “help him learn to love another.”

I began to think about this plotline: the girl who holds a magic key to change a rough, but good-natured guy and help him become the prince, she knows is really inside of him.  This message of “if a girl loves a guy enough, he will change” is the foundation for many abusive relationships and shifts responsibility from the guy to the girl.

It does not stop there…

Many portrayals of boys/men in media allow them a free pass when it comes to their behavior.  Think about how many times male characters ogle female characters in movies, or even worse peep on young women in locker rooms or showers.  The audience laughs with a “boys will be boys” attitude. And what about the male character who doesn’t take “no” for answer, and the audience views it as romantic?

Is it any wonder that girls often keep quiet when a boy makes a rude joke or touches her inappropriately? The messages they are bombarded with encourage their silence, make light of boys sexualized and/or aggressive behavior, and even worse push the responsibility onto the girl.

In a recent study reported by Huffington Post, more than 30% of teens report being sexually harassed online, yet very few ever report it. In the same study, 81% of women report some form of sexual harassment, and most of it goes unreported. Girls under the age of 19 are at greatest risk, and account for 51% of reported sexual assaults (Scheff, 2017).

As parents we must do all we can to change these statistics and change the societal attitudes that often lead people into abusive relationships. These changes start in our homes, with our attitudes, our example, and our open, honest communication.

Communicating with our children directly about these issues is vital. Plan a family night specifically to talk about gender roles in the media and abusive relationships. This will give you the opportunity to prepare and involve them in the planning. Conversations can also be very powerful right in the moment, after watching a movie with confusing depictions of relationships.

With Young Children:

Teach body safety. Use correct names for body parts and let them know that certain parts of their bodies are private.

Teach them to trust their gut. Talk about trusting feelings, and the importance for children to follow their instincts if they feel uncomfortable around someone, they should let you know.  We can unknowingly teach children to override their own safety sensors in trying to teach kindness and respect.

Teach them about healthy boundaries. Give them permission to say ”no”, when someone acts in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

Teach them with positive examples. Label examples of kindness, respect, thoughtfulness when it is demonstrated in media and in real life, teaching them how to treat others and expectations of how they should be treated.

Teach them where to go for help. Be a safe space for your children to come, even when they make mistakes, often children avoid talking to their parents because they fear they will get in trouble.

Teach them about healthy sexuality. Watch this video about Talking to Young Kids about Sexual Intimacy.

With Older kids:

Teach media literacy. Teach them to be discerning regarding media–especially social media— and discuss unhealthy depictions of relationships, take time to talk about something you have seen or heard together that reinforces damaging relationships.

Teach them about healthy relationships. Talk about qualities that make a relationship healthy: mutual respect, honesty, support, trust, good communication.

Teach them about unhealthy relationships. Talk about qualities that can make a relationship unhealthy: physical abuse, controlling behavior, obsessiveness, intense jealousy, lying.

Teach them about open communication. If you have experienced some form of sexual harassment share it, let them know it is okay to talk about it!

Teach them to be a good friend. Support them to support their friends and to stand up to inappropriate behavior.

Teach them about healthy boundaries. Teach them that boundaries are the rules of how we treat others and how we want to be treated, it includes physical, mental and emotional boundaries. Discuss ways to handle unwanted sexual attention/harassment. Help them to distinguish between being assertive and being mean, and let them know that they are not the same.

Teach them about healthy sexuality. Watch this video about How to Talk to Older Kids about Sexual Intimacy.

Our children are besieged by many confusing messages, in movies, songs, television, social media etc etc. Often when the good is mixed with the bad, like Beauty and the Beast, it can be very hard for children and even teens to sort it all out.  Remember, you as their parent are a source of clarity, so talk to them and listen to them. One discussion is not enough. Talk to your kids about these issues consistently, and make it an ongoing conversation. These resources can help:

All of the above talking points can be found in our books 30 Days of Sex Talks for ages 3-1, 8-11, and 12+.

Our book 30 Days to a Stronger Child, is a rich resource of lessons and conversation starters, all designed to strengthen your child’s ability to be resilient and reinforce your connection.

Petra’s Power to See, is a also valuable teaching tool in discerning underlying media messages.

Engaging stories, great discussions!


Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho.  She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids.  She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.



Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 21). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

Scheff, S. (2017, February 24). Teens, Cyberbullying, Sexual Harassment and Social Media: The New Normal? Retrieved from Huffpost: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-scheff/teens-sexual-harassment-a_b_9310060.html

Sexual Abuse Statistics. (2016). Retrieved from Teen Help.com: https://www.teenhelp.com/sexual-abuse-trauma/sexual-abuse-statistics/

Four Ways to Instill a Healthy Body Image in Your Children

Four Ways to Instill a Healthy Body Image in Your Children


By Emily Krause

In today’s media-saturated world, it can be difficult to sustain a healthy body image. We are constantly being bombarded with images of  “physical perfection”, which can take a toll on self-confidence and self-worth. This negative effect is greatest among our youth. In the world of social media, the “selfie” with just the right angles and perfect filters allows children to alter their appearance, which sends a strong and unhealthy message that a “perfected appearance” is the norm.  It is so important to teach our children to have a healthy body image, if we can instill these practices early on, they will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.

Teach that healthy body image does not mean having a perfect appearance

Help children and teens understand that they do not have to be in “perfect shape” to like their bodies.  Encourage them to accept themselves as they are, and to recognize that no one person on the earth has a “perfect body”. Assist them to find things they love about their body and to consider all their body can do, not just what their bodies looks like.

Set goals  regarding abilities rather than appearance

Your children are so much more than their appearance: their goals should be too! Center their thoughts on how amazing their minds are, and of how much they are capable. Help them to create an all encompassing form of self love that does not revolve around body-focused goals.

Show respect to all types of bodies

Children are greatly impacted by the example their parents set regarding body image. It is critical in teaching healthy body image to be aware of how you speak about others and your own body. Be positive. Body shaming others and yourself is a powerful model that children and teens will follow. It can create negative self image when kids .. pick up on those negative judgements and internalize them. We should be showing our children that everyone deserves respect. Over time, our bodies reflect all of the amazing and noteworthy things we have done in our lives. Highlighting this fact to your children will eventually trickle into their own visions of themselves and others. Seeing the beauty in the diversity of every single body shows that even if they are different than the images they see in the media, they are completely, 100% beautiful!

Buy clothes you actually enjoy wearing

It may not seem like it, but the clothes you buy have an enormous impact on how you view yourself. Feeling content in what you are wearing can go a long way. This easily transfers to you being a completely intrepid woman. Once again, our kids pick up on everything. Investing in body-positive companies has the potential to completely change how you feel about yourself. And with that shows your kids another great example to better love themselves.

*Companies like Old Navy and JCrew focus on showing love to every shape and size. They focus on making clothes for real women, providing plus sizes for adults

*True & Co. is a company who offers bras that are formed to your body. They have a specific mission to make every woman feel confident in their own skin. They even provide an extensive quiz to select your actual bra size..

*There are also companies that are tailored specifically for your children’s changing body shapes. The Children’s Place and Land’s End have clothes for kids of all sizes. They even offer a section of extended sizes so a child of any shape or form can feel self-assured when they leave the house

Create an affirmations journal

It is very easy to slip into a bad habit of self-hate. Focusing on your flaws rather than your great qualities is something we are all guilty of! A great example you can set for your kids, is keeping  an affirmations journal. Showing them that you can speak to yourself with love and appreciation will inspire them to do the same. It only takes a few minutes every day to write out the things you’re proud of and positive thoughts about yourself. This can include your work, or even just something that made you feel good that day. By simply changing your self talk from negative patterns or harsh thoughts, to positive statements about yourself and your day will create a healthy environment for you and your child to thrive in!

Including these practices in our everyday lives can build the kind of inclusivity children need to see. Create a diverse set of images and role models for women and children everywhere. Let the world know who your true self is and you are not afraid to show it!

Check out the following books that can help children better under body positivity:

Messages about me: Wade’s Story, A Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image

Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story, A Girl’s Journey to Healthy Body Image

Social Media: A Highlight Reel That is Destroying Our Kids

Social Media: A Highlight Reel That is Destroying Our Kids


By Mattie Barron

Social media is often referred to as a “highlight reel,” meaning everyone shares their best moments in life. Because of this, comparison is becoming a common negative feeling, especially in kids. “Such comparisons may occur frequently with [social media] use because users tend to disproportionately represent positive life developments, portray themselves to be happier than they actually are” (Hanna, 2017). According to a study done on about 1,500 teens and adults, Instagram was rated the “worst social media network for mental health and well being” (Macmillan, 2017).

What social media doesn’t show is how everyone’s life is just as imperfect as our own. It doesn’t show our arguments with family members, your neighbor losing her job, or the moment your teenager gives you the “I hate you” look. And it isn’t capable of showing us the loneliness and isolation that many people are feeling.

Occasionally you may come across a post of a mom with her child’s spit-up all over her or a so-called “Pinterest fail,” but how common is it to see things like this?

Posts like these exemplify reality! They showcase a non-picture-perfect life. They are wonderfully relatable rather than comparable. Since the majority of posts are highlights though, it’s hard not to compare our worst to others’ best.

I’m scrolling through Instagram right now, and out of the first 20 posts I see, not one is being vulnerable. Everyone is smiling, showcasing a great moment in their life or looking confident as ever. If I’m having a bad day and I scroll through social media, I often feel worse about my day because I see everyone enjoying their life with no stress or struggles.

It’s almost impossible to remember that everyone is struggling when all I see is “happiness.” Now, I’m not saying we should to post every bad moment in our life or that we even need to. I just want our kids to stop comparing their life through the flawed lens of social media.

How can we teach our kids not to get caught up in comparison?

Limit Screen Time

“Several findings indicate that greater time spent on [social media] is associated with more social comparison, which, in turn, is associated with more depressive symptoms” (Hanna, 2017). From personal experience, the more time I spend on social media, the worse I feel about myself. Every kid should feel like they have a valuable life. Rather than having your kids spend their free time on their screen, encourage them to indulge in a meaningful activity such as art, music, dance, sports, or a hobby! This will significantly increase their self-worth far more than any time spent on social media. Limiting screen time will help kids combat depressive feelings.

Discourage the “Discover” Page

On Instagram, there is a “discover” page that highlights posts you may like. I have spent mindless hours on this page, telling myself nothing but negative things. “Wow, she’s so pretty, why can’t I look like that?” or “I wish I had that outfit” or “My photos aren’t as cool as hers.”

I have a near and dear friend who has embraced Instagram this last year. She’s gone from 500 followers to 18k in months. She loves to pose, edit, and inspire! Since she’s taken on the title of a “cute famous Instagrammer,” I had to ask, how she does it. If I were her, I would feel stressed to post a new picture-perfect photo every day. And I was surprised to hear that it’s a love/hate relationship for her.

She expressed her enjoyment in photography, but also said, “It can be a lot to see so many images of people doing so many fun and different things, all with different styles and it can be easy to have yours lost and spiral down a hole of comparison.” Even my friend, who’s the cutest person alive, struggles with comparison.

Encourage Kids to Embrace THEIR life

Since I’ve stayed away from the discover page, I’ve embraced my photos and social media presence. Blurry ones, crystal clear ones, good lighting, bad lighting, etc. My Instagram page represents memories I cherish. It’s for me and my family, not to impress anyone else. Reminding our kids (many times) to keep this mindset will greatly help them not to compare.

I like to think of Instagram as a personal journal rather than a socializing network. Encourage your kids to be deliberate and authentic, but safe.

Help Kids Understand Reality  

We see beauty ads with women who have no pores or lines on their faces, yet everyone we see in person has pores. Ads aren’t showcasing reality. Just about every photo we see on social media is filtered and edited in some way. It’s important to teach our kids that media-even social media–is unrealistic. Our book, Petras Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure, is a great resource for helping kids to better understand the reality of media illusions. It emphasizes how advertisements and social media is often littered with unhealthy messages.

If your kids can see a photo or video and understand that it has been edited to be unrealistically beautiful, this will help them not to play the comparison game.

Specifically, parents: take advantage of small teaching moments. If you’re driving in the car with your daughter and see beauty advertisements, let her know that the model is airbrushed, edited to be slimmer, and is showcased to be perfect, which just simply doesn’t exist. Teach her that it’s a false message being sent to her that she can look like that.

Teach Your Kids to Be Kind to Themselves

If comparison is too harsh on your children, consider helping them look for the positive in themselves. Doing so will ultimately help them feel better about who they are.

This can be done through positive self-talk, which is taught in our book, 30 Days to A Stronger Child. Self-talk is inward and validates our minds. It’s saying phrases such as “You can do this!” or “I will be better next time,” instead of  saying “I failed again.” It’s about turning our negative thoughts into positive ones. Tell your kids to think of uplifting songs, quotes, or memories once negative self-talk begins. This will help train their mind to look for and stay focused on the positive in themselves.

Empower your children to use positive self-talk by committing to it and practicing it yourself. Be their example and teach accordingly! Along with this commitment, know that the power of limiting screen time, discouraging the discover page, and helping kids embrace their life and understand reality, are substantial steps to help a child combat a life of comparison. Your kids may not understand the benefits of you being involved now, but will certainly thank you for it later.

A great resource! Available in Kindle or paperback.

Available in Kindle or Paperback!


Mattie Barron is a current Senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Marriage and Family Studies. She is from Tri-cities, WA and has a passion to help create and ignite strong families. She hopes to work in the school system and aid in the support of children and families.


There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Educate and Empower Kids!


Hanna, E., Ward, L. M., Seabrook, R. C., Jerald, M., Reed, L., Giaccardi, S., & Lippman, J. R. (2017). Contributions of Social Comparison and Self-Objectification in Mediating Associations Between Facebook Use and Emergent Adults’ Psychological Well-Being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 20(3), 172-179.

Macmillan, A. (2017). Why instagram is the worst social media for mental health. Time Website. http://time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/. Accessed May 16, 2018.


Teach Your Kids to Be Different: 15 Great Halloween Candy Alternatives

Teach Your Kids to Be Different: 15 Great Halloween Candy Alternatives

By Amanda Kimball

It’s the time of year again when I find myself wandering down the candy isle. Hypnotized by the bright orange and black packaging, I wonder, “What am I going to give my trick-or-treaters this year?” Do I go with my favorites (everything chocolate), do I give out the big candy bars and become the house everyone wants to go to the following year, or do I save a few dollars and give out small, simple stuff? I am in a whirlwind of candy overload. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I always end up getting something for myself. But is what I want for myself healthy for trick-or-treaters? Probably not.

It seems that every Halloween, kids are bombarded with candy, and every day those same kids are being bombarded with messages from the media. They can never get a break from seeing media everywhere they go: on TV, at every store, and even at school. They are told how to dress, how they should do their hair, how they should look, talk, and act, and even what they should be eating. Naturally, it has become normalized for kids to eat huge amounts of candy and indulge in every kind of sweet treat during the holidays. And it all begins at Halloween.

This year, I’m going to do better. I’m teaching my kids to question the messages they are receiving through the media. Some of the questions I am going to ask them include, “When you see a sign that shows a kid eating a big candy bar with a large smile on their face, what is this sign really saying? Does this mean that kids are only really happy when they eat that specific type of candy bar?”

If our children are not taught how to decode the messages from  media they encounter on a daily basis, they may begin to feel what they see, read, or hear must be true. They may think, “If I want to be happy, then I need to have that candy bar. If I want to be popular, I need to have those clothes. If I want to be beautiful, I need to make my body look like the model’s body in the picture.” We need to teach our kids to be different and learn how to break down what the media is selling.

What can I do differently for my neighborhood trick-or-treaters this year?  

Here are 15 fun alternatives to candy we can give out this Halloween:

  1. Mini Play-Doh
  2. Bubbles
  3. Halloween stamps
  4. Glow Sticks (Big hit!)
  5. Punch balloons
  6. Fruit leather
  7. Fake mustaches
  8. Glider airplanes
  9. Healthy, organic snacks
  10. Erasers
  11. A handful of change
  12. Witches fingers
  13. Spider rings
  14. Stickers
  15. Pencils


The “candy” the media is feeding our kids is not healthy and can hold some serious dangers. As parents we have the power to help our children see past the messages and realize that beauty is not skin deep.  

Check out Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure for a great story and more great talks on media, media illusions, social media, and more!

Also available: Messages About Me: A Journey to Healthy Body Image for a great story and great discussions about media and other messages that affect our body image.

Engaging stories, great discussions!

Amanda Kimball will be earning her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies this winter. She is a mother of three children and is married to a loving and devoted husband of 11 years. She loves taking family trips to the beach and can not wait to start decorating her house for Halloween!


Lesson: Integrity: Online and Everywhere

Lesson: Integrity: Online and Everywhere


The idea of integrity can sometimes seem hard to understand, especially for children. What does this word mean? Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. When we teach our children to have integrity, we give them courage to do what they know is right. This is an important skill to have, both in real life and online!

What is Integrity?

Integrity is often accompanied by choices. For instance, a child might choose to play with a particular friend, steal a toy, send a mean text, help a neighbor, or make the bed because someone is asking them to.

During childhood, each small choice is helping to lay the foundation for the kind of adults our children will become later in life. Integrity is a key factor in this process because it involves deliberately made choices in response to one’s belief system.

Download the Lesson Here!


Looking for an engaging story with great discussion questions and activities to help your kids understand integrity, assertiveness, gratitude, initiative, and more? Check out our amazing resource for parents and teachers, 30 Days to a Stronger Child. Not only will you and child connect on a deeper level, the lessons will strengthen your children and your whole family!

Available in Kindle or Paperback!

Tech Over-Use and Lazy Parenting: A Deadly Combination

Tech Over-Use and Lazy Parenting: A Deadly Combination


By Marina Spears

I’m sure we are all familiar with the following scene: A small child cries and whines in public, the parent pulls out a smartphone or tablet, connects to a game, the child calms down, and all is well. But is it really? Many teachers, administrators, and school mental health professionals are worried.

In a recent interview with Sarah McCarroll, MS, a Pennsylvania school psychologist of eighteen years, she voiced the concerns that she, her colleagues, and school officials are experiencing across the country. They are noticing the effects of “over using” technology with children and what she described as a “significant reduction in emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence is “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems” (Cambridge University Press, 2018). McCarroll explained that when technology replaces active parenting, such as taking the time to teach coping skills, children are skipping important steps in learning how to handle emotions in healthy ways. This kind of “lazy parenting” is detrimental in several ways:

  • It decreases the ability for a child to learn self-regulation. When a child plays video games or uses social media the brain releases dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure. When a parent uses this mechanism to help a child cope, the feelings of frustration were never truly dealt with–just covered up with a distraction that “felt good.”
  • It creates unhealthy patterns. Overuse of technology in moments of frustration will create a pattern of behavior that uses of technology as an escape from uncomfortable feelings.
  • It can lead to addiction. When technology is used this way, children may develop a sense that they need it to “cope,” which can lead to addiction.

On the other hand, when a parent takes the time to allow the child to feel the emotion, and teach coping skills, the child’s brain is working very hard, and making new connections which build the ability for the child to manage their emotions in future situations

McCarroll also explained that “we need to use technology wisely,” and far too often kids are spending more time interacting with an iPod than in face-to-face interactions with their parents. In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new media regulations for children’s media use. One of the lead authors of the recommendations, Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, stated the following: “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep.”

So, what can we do? Technology does work to calm down a child; it does work to have quiet time while we’re making dinner after a long day. It is important to remember that these are quick fixes. In the long run, we all want a strong connection with our children. We want to be able to impart what we know and provide them with all the tools they need to succeed. And that won’t come from becoming a champion on Subway Surfers.

Here are Four Suggestions to Help Us Find Balance With Technology:


1) Tech now, talk later. If you used a “tech quick fix” to avoid a disaster in the supermarket, make sure to discuss it later on with your child, find out why they were upset, talk about ways they can handle their feelings and how you can help them.

2) Take breaks. Create “tech-free times” with your family. These can be mealtimes, rides in the car, Sunday afternoons, or whatever works best. How you do it is not as important as just ensuring moments of face-to-face interaction.

3) Quality time. If possible, take time each day to spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Be sure to shut off the phones, iPods, and any other screens during that time.


4) Self-check. Because children follow our example, do a “self tech-check” every few days. Are we missing out on teaching moments with our kids because we just want to get to the next level on Candy Crush?

Let’s make sure that each day we are doing all we can to connect with our kids and use technology to help them not hinder them. In our books 30 Days to A Stronger Child and Noah’s New Phone, there are activities, lessons and conversations starters to empower our kids with the tools they need to succeed in this ever increasing digital world.

Feeling motivated to do something right now about digital use in your home?  Click on this link for a downloadable lesson to discuss this issue. With this lesson and about 15 minutes of your time you can discuss digital addictions and healthier coping mechanisms with your kids, right at the dinner table tonight!

Available in paperback or Kindle!

Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho.  She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids.  She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.

Sarah McCarroll, M.S., earned her degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a school psychologist for 18 years, working with students at the junior high and high school levels for much of her career. She is married to a high school teacher/coach and is the mother of 3 children, who are also at the junior high and high school levels. She believes in advocating for students with disabilities and their families through teamwork with wonderful educators. She is a co-founder of STARs, a program targeting at-risk girls, to reduce girl/girl violence by promoting positive sisterhood.


Cambridge University Press. (2018). Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from Cambridge University Press: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/emotional-intelligence

Kent C. Berridge, K. C. (1998). What is the Role of Dopamine in Reward Hedonic Impact, Reward Learning or Incentive Salience? Brain Research Reviews, 309-369.

American Academy of Pediatric. (2015, October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx

Lesson: Talking To Kids About Gaming

Lesson:  Talking To Kids About Gaming


Gaming is a major part of our media culture and families need to understand the pros and cons of becoming consumers of this media. Children will be exposed to various forms of gaming from peers, family members as well as mainstream media. Parents need to understand and identify how they will address the issue.

Video games may have benefits such as creativity, problem solving, and cooperation in addition to negative effects such as addiction, hyperactivity, depression, and antisocial behaviors. Gaming can be a positive experience for families when everyone follows the rules that have been established.

It’s important for us to start talking before a child becomes too enthralled with particular games. This lesson is a great opportunity to educate yourself and your kids, as well as to have a great discussion about the positives and negatives of gaming.

Take the opportunity to listen to your kids! Understand why gaming is important to them.

Download the Lesson Here!

For Great discussions about using tech for good, understanding media and advertising, or improving your child’s body image, check out our children’s books. Available here.

Engaging stories, great discussions!