4 Things To Do When You Catch Your Kid in the Act

It was the perfect setup. I may have only been 5 years old at the time, but this plan was a surefire winner. I methodically locked every door in the house, and I sauntered outside where my unsuspecting parents were puttering about the yard in the midday sun.

After a brief while, my mother attempted to return indoors. She was surprised to find that the doorknob refused to turn. She called out to my father to inform him that we were locked out, and she asked if he had the key to the front door. Bewildered, he yelled back that he did not.

Cue the hero.

I held up a set of colorful, plastic oversized Fisher Price toy keys, and I proudly pronounced, “It’s okay, Dad. I’ve got my keys.”

I was busted. I had been a bit too clever for my own good.

Our kids make mistakes. Our kids make poor choices. Our kids don’t always do things the way we think they should. Sometimes we catch our kids red-handed. We catch them in the act.

Each of my three cherubs have fallen out of line countless times. They’re all teenagers now, so you can imagine how long those rap sheets unfurl.

Even so, I believe that in my pursuit of developing high-performing prodigy, my biggest missed opportunities haven’t come from failing to recognize their shortcomings but instead from having not properly celebrated their successes.

We can each look back on a time when a child did something well – a little thing or a big thing – yet we were too busy, too preoccupied, or too caught up in “our world” to recognize the win in “their world”.

Here’s how we should give positive feedback to our kids:

  • Provide immediate and specific recognition. If a child brings home a stellar report card, shares a toy, or helps out around the house without your having to ask, take the immediate opportunity to show your admiration. Are their achievements, yours at work, and those of the world-class athletes we celebrate all that different at their essence? Seize the opportunity in the moment to share your praise, but also say what precisely you admire most. Statements like “I’m really impressed how you overcame your low quiz result from a few weeks ago”, “I love how you took turns playing with that ball”, and “Thanks so much for putting away those dishes so I didn’t have to” may barely register externally, but internally they work their magic.
  • Applaud their effort, not ability. The research is clear in this area. Praise is good when it’s focused on effort that produces the win. Psychology researcher Carol Dweck highlighted a research study that found that when students were recognized for their work effort were more confident “when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed”. By comparison, constantly praising kids for their natural abilities – athleticism, intelligence, etc. – becomes problematic in the long term.
  • Have fun with it. I’ve found that the more ridiculous and memorable you can make the recognition, the more kids appreciate it. One of my favorites is the celebration dinner. Preparing a favorite meal or visiting a favorite restaurant offers ample pre-event anticipation and a chance to call attention to the victory during the feast. Not a foodie? Make a cheesy award and really pour it on when you bestow it upon your deserving champion. Even the moodiest teenagers may feign embarrassment, but your appreciation of their achievement will stick with them.
  • Reinforce the win after the fact. It may be surprising, but our kids are as busy as we are these days. Their schedules are jam-packed with organized activities and increasing demands. Even if you’ve done the right thing by recognizing their achievement in the moment, they may be on to the next thing. After a day or two has passed, recall the achievement to let them relive their win and cement the memory of achievement.

A Work|Life Warrior realizes that if you want to foster achievement in your family, you’ve got to seize the opportunity to recognize “what winning looks like”. You need to take the time to reward the right thing – effort that produces results – both on the spot and after a bit of time has passed.

Techniques like these are key to creating champions at home. They’re a lot more effective than plastic toy keys, that’s for sure.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com)


How do you like to provide recognition when a family member crushes it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

How to Help Your Kids GROW into Lifelong Achievers

During the summer months, the streets of my Cape Cod town become engorged with tourists and beachgoers. This becomes painfully obvious when you see a car with out-of-state plates attempting to make an ill-advised left turn, much to the chagrin of locals like myself.

parent and child on beach

This is why I’ve taken to use a variety of backroads to shave valuable minutes off my journey. I remember one fateful day when I estimated that I would have to spend an extra 10 minutes to get to the grocery store. I can’t waste that kind of time when I have Oreo Thins to purchase, so I veered onto one of my trusty shortcuts. Pure genius, I thought to myself as I whizzed along.

I was shocked and dismayed when I saw a flagman motioning for me to stop. I spent the next 20 minutes watching a team of construction workers discuss a very large hole in the ground. Finally, the mammoth yellow road machine that had blocked my path lurched to the right, and I was allowed to proceed.

My driving experience reminds me of a saying often employed by coaches and personal development gurus:

When it comes to people, fast is slow and slow is fast.

I’ve never found this maxim to be more true than when parenting. When I try to produce short-term changes in behavior (“Clean your room or you’re not going to the movies.”) or try to imprint my methods (“Just make a simple to-do list like I do.”) with one of my darling cherubs, we both end up frustrated and nothing changes.

A coaching approach eschews directive statements that fail to produce long-term results in favor of guidance and questions that do. The practice of coaching increases accountability, encourages action planning and follow through, and supports long-term behavior change in pursuit of a desired outcome. It’s naturally positive and solution-focused, and decades of research has proven that it works in a variety of personal and professional situations.

In his excellent book Coaching for Performance, Sir John Whitmore was the first to publish what’s known as the GROW model. GROW has become a popular coaching framework because it is simple and straightforward. I find that these qualities makes it great for use with kids.

The GROW model guides a 4-part coaching conversation:

Goal – What do you want?
Reality – Where are you now?
Options – What could you do?
Will – What will you do?

The key to becoming a parent-as-coach is developing an ability to ask instead of task. Asking the right questions in the right order unlocks accountability and long-term success in areas of academics, sports, relationships, and other important aspects of your kids’ lives.

If you’d like to help your kids GROW on their path to achievement, add these coaching questions to your repertoire:


  • What do you want to achieve this week/month/semester?
    (Shoot for specifics here.)
  • How do you think you’ll feel when you succeed?
    (Builds motivation and helps envision a positive future state.)
  • What’s an example of a milestone you’ll achieve along the way?
    (Builds healthy goal-chunking and planning skills.)


  • What’s working well for you right now in terms of achieving that result?
    (Inventory of constructive factors.)
  • What’s not working as well as it could be?
    (Inventory of preventive factors.)
  • What’s missing that might help you succeed?
    (Develops critical thinking skills.)


  • What are some actions you could take to make progress toward your goal?
    (These don’t have to be realistic in this initial stage. The objective is idea generation.)
  • Would you like any additional suggestions from me?
    (If yes, offer a variety of suggestions including some silly ones just to demonstrate the importance of getting ideas onto the table.)
  • Which of these options feels right to you?
    (Encourages reflection and self-awareness.)


  • Which option or options do you choose?
    (Choices create personal accountability and empowerment.)
  • When will you get started?
    (More accountability.)
  • How can I support you?
    (Clarifies your role as a willing guide but not an owner of the effort and outcome.)

At its heart, coaching is about constructive conversation. Open doors for your kids, but be sure that they’re the ones who choose to walk through them. It’s never a fast or easy process, but it’s supremely rewarding when you can be a valued guide on their path to achievement.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com)


How have you prepared your kids to become high achievers? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

Family Meeting #01: Personal Values Bracketology

In a recent post, I shared a blueprint for how to run a great Family Meeting. Some of you have asked me to share some of the actual exercises I’ve used to cover a variety of personal development topics over the years. I’m hoping you’ll use these meeting templates with your family. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

basketball bracket frames values

My history with the game of basketball is spotty at best. The pinnacle of my career was the 8th grade. There I stood, 5’ 0”, sporting a bowl cut and white tube socks pulled up to my knees.

My signature move was to hurl myself at the opposing point guard in order to make a magnificent steal. I would quickly scoop up the ball, charge down the court for an easy uncontested layup, and then throw up a brick that would clang off the bottom of the rim.

Despite my basketball challenges, I’ve always been a big fan of March Madness. Each year, I download my NCAA bracket and forecast which of the competing teams will move onto each progressive round until a single champion is left standing.

I began to wonder, what other uses could the simple head-to-head bracket serve? For example, I’ve seen achievers struggle to get clear about their personal values. This is unfortunate as living inline with our personal values is key to our fulfillment, success, and happiness. Could a simple bracket help us get clear about what matter most to us?

I decided to create my own brand of bracketology: a round-by-round competition to determine which personal value would rule them all. I was pleased with the result, so I decided to incorporate it into a Family Meeting. Now it’s your turn!

Personal Values Bracket

Personal Values Bracket

Meeting Preparation

  • Download the Personal Values Bracketology worksheet (PDF)
  • Print 1 bracket for each family member
  • Bring 1 pen or pencil for each family member

Meeting Setup

Say something like:
“Personal values are our perceptions of what is good, important, useful, and more in the world and in our lives. Our values help us choose goals and make decisions. This exercise will help us determine our most important personal values and learn about what each other value. There are no wrong answers.”

Activity Instructions

  • Ask each family member to complete a bracket by starting with Round 1 and progressing round-by-round through the championship.

Meeting Debrief

  • “Which was easier, choosing winners in Round 1 or in the Finals? Why?”
  • “Give an example of somebody (a historical figure, a famous person, or somebody you know) who has demonstrated your highest value in his or her life.”
  • “Share an experience or an example from your own life when you were able to demonstrate your highest value.”
  • “In the next 30 days, what could you do to bring more of your highest value into your life?”

Why This Meeting Works

  • Our values ground us. Knowing our values serves as a type of compass for goal setting and decisions about where we should spend our precious energy and attention.
  • It’s hard to start with a blank sheet of paper. Starting with a list of examples makes it much easier.
  • The bracket format forces choices. This makes it tough – particularly in the later rounds – but the end result is a prioritized list of our highest values.
  • We get to compare our own value choices to those of other family members. This is my favorite part! Some will be the same and others will be different. Learning deepens our love for one another.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com.)


How did your bracket turn out? Share your meeting experience and what you learned about yourself and/or your family members in the comments section below.

How to Run a Kick-Ass Family Meeting

“Ok, guys! 20 minutes until Family Meeting!” Those words have rung through the halls of our home countless times over the years. A few minutes later, the shadowy figures of three children would emerge from various places and make their way to the dinner table or living room couch.

Family meetings have become an institution in the Poepsel home. Whether your current family consists of a pair of newlyweds, a single mother with two kids under 8 years old, or a married couple with three kids in High School, Family Meetings can strengthen family bonds while teaching invaluable life lessons.

Here are some tips to help you run a kick-ass family meeting:

1. Do the Prep Work
When leading a Family Meeting, don’t try to wing it. Before lining up the troops, be sure to have a loose agenda built around a specific theme, exercise, or thought-provoking question. Your up-front investment will be noticed, and it will ensure that everybody is at their best during the meeting.

2. Keep it Short
You may be into personal goals and achievement, but remember that not all of your family members are wired the same way. You should shoot for a Family Meeting that lasts 20 minutes or less. If you find that you’re losing them, it’s better to wrap it up and let the Family Meeting concept live to fight another day.

3. Make it Fun
Personal development can be dry for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Try to incorporate fun activities into your Family Meetings. In our house, we’ve led each other blindfolded through a makeshift obstacle course (trust), formed a human pyramid to secure a sticky note high on a tree (teamwork), and filled out NCAA-style brackets (personal values). Who says achievement has to be boring?

4. Play Along
Even if you’re leading the meeting, you need to participate in the festivities. Be prepared to demonstrate leadership by going first. This may include sharing first if you’ve asked a question such as, “When was a time you tried really hard but came up short, and what did you learn as a result?” In the same way, the more ridiculous the meeting activity, the more important it is that you go first if you don’t have any eager volunteers.

5. Stay On Target
Avoid any temptation to go off course during your Family Meeting. A meeting that starts with a theme of teamwork shouldn’t end with a lecture about how the kids aren’t doing a good job of keeping their rooms clean. A couple’s meeting that starts with fitness goals shouldn’t end with “that’s because your work is more important to you than I am.” Stick to the plan.

6. Act Their Age
Personal development discussions can lead to some heavy duty life lessons. If you have kids, you need to make these concepts relatable to your younger meeting members. This has always been a big problem area for me. I get so excited to talk about a development topic that I begin to talk over their heads. Every time I do, my well-intentioned message is lost.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Tackle the Big Topics
Even younger kids can handle more than you think. Seemingly adult topics such as goal setting, frustration, roadbloacks, and dealing with negative people are very much a part of young peoples’ lives. Future success starts at a very early age. Other family members’ lives may be different than yours, but the overarching themes are quite similar. The trick is finding a way to make these topics safe and accessible as part of the Family Meeting.

8. Be Consistent
Especially when starting out, it’s important to demonstrate that your newfound dedication to holding Family Meetings isn’t a passing fad like your shake weight or cutting back on Facebook. If possible, establish a regular cadence for your Family Meetings with a regular day, time, and place each week. At first, you may be met with groans. “Are we still doing this?” Over time, your meeting attendees will have a series of positive experiences, and they’ll look forward to the next meeting (even if they won’t always admit it).

9. Share the Load
After you’ve built up some momentum, you can ask your partner or older kids to lead a Family Meeting. They’ll have your examples and templates to guide them. Don’t be surprised if the kids especially experience a sense of pride at the offer to take the reins. I’ve been surprised at the creativity and leadership my young meeting organizers have shown over the years.

10. Go Around the Horn
I’ve found that the best way to wrap up a successful Family Meeting is to go around the table and ask each family member to share something of interest. Great examples include questions such as “What was your favorite moment this past week?” or “What’s coming up that you’re really excited about?” These questions are powerful when we answer them, but they’re unusual thought patterns in our daily lives. That’s what makes them great for a Family Meeting!

We spend so much time in meetings in our work, and to be fair, many are a colossal waste of time. The problem isn’t the meeting format but rather how they’re executed. When led properly, a well-organized meeting is a powerful tool in helping organizations perform to their full potential. The same is true for our families.

Commit to making Family Meetings a new tradition in your home. Your achievers will thank you for it in the long run.


How do you make the most of your family time together? Share your thoughts using the comments below.

(Featured image by Unsplash.)