All posts by Pine4Grapes

A School Visit: Helping Young Dragon Tamers

For an author, the chance to visit a school and read to

students is its own reward. Sharing your work and vision, seeing

kids experience your story – it’s hard to top.

I recently visited a local elementary school to share

Liz Tames a Dragon (and her Anger) with kindergarten through

third-grade students. Before the program

started, one parent remarked, ”My son has three

lively dragons.” Yes, that’s why I’m here, I told her.

“Has anyone ever tamed a dragon?” I asked the children.

Most shook their heads, though several claimed to have

impressive experience.

Then I introduced Liz, my story character who has

trouble getting along with her little sister. The

character shouts and throws toys to express her

emotions. She feels herself morphing into an angry,

fire-breathing dragon. I asked the students, “How big does your

angry dragon grow?” They used their arms to indicate size, showing

long, tall dragons. The kids stomped around and showed


“That’s right,” I said. “Dragons breathe fire and stomp

around. And they do that over and over again. Dragons

aren’t very good at solving their problems. But smart kids

have many ways to solve their problems.”

In the story, Liz finds new ways to express herself. She takes a walk

to cool down, pays attention to her body’s physical cues, and starts

using calm words. Her happy sister proclaims, “You’re

the Queen of Dragon Tamers!”

I say, “Remember to slow down, do something that helps you feel

calm, use calm words, and you’ll be a dragon tamer, too.”

“I’m King of the Dragon Tamers!” the boys cried in

unison. “I’m Queen of the Dragon Tamers!” the girls

cried together.

As I left the school, I knew my work made a difference.

If we believe in kids’ ability to develop self-control,

they’ll believe in it, too. And they’ll work harder at it.

Dragons Feel Sad, Too

Does your child ever hide pain behind a “mask” of anger? It can feel vulnerable to show sadness, embarrassment, or hurt feelings. Looking angry may make a child feel ‘strong’ and disguise other emotions. Call it the “it’s too embarrassing to be embarrassed” line of defense.

I recently visited with a middle school guidance counselor who helps 11- to -14-year-olds work through a range of issues. Often, students with emotional bruises show an angry face, she says. When a child shouts or acts hostile, it’s easy to be blindsided and miss the chance to find out more about the source of the outburst.

So let’s help children of all ages verbalize their feelings and see that it’s okay to discuss big feelings with trusted people. Let’s help toddlers and pre-schoolers build a “feelings vocabulary” and help them learn the names of different feelings. Then, let’s encourage children to talk about times they feel sad or disappointed.

As a parent, I’m taking this guidance counselor’s advice: Remember to listen and look for things that might be in the background. Because dragons feel sad, too.

The Dunedin Study: Self-Control Counts

Everyone likes a story with a happy ending. When you raise a child, you want his or her story to be one that continues to a productive, rewarding future. In a novel, conflict and an explosive plot fire the imagination, but a stormy story isn’t one we want for our children. Every child must learn to manage emotions appropriately and control impulses.

Success in life depends on learning self-control. Research confirms that children who develop self-control have better outcomes in adolescence and adulthood. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, an ongoing study conducted by the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, is following a group of more than 1,000 people from birth to mid-life. The researchers examine real-world outcomes and have identified self-control as a significant predictor of health, wealth, and criminal activity in adulthood.

A composite measure of self-control as observed throughout childhood is strongly related to a spectrum of outcomes in adulthood, including health outcomes (such as respiratory disease and substance abuse); economic well-being (including savings and home ownership); and criminal activity (being convicted of a crime by age 32). Subjects whose level of self-control increased from childhood to adolescence showed more positive outcomes. The study found that children with low self-control were likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors as teenagers.

The Dunedin study just confirms what common sense tells us – the earlier that we intervene, the better our chances of making a positive difference.

A Big Lesson about Anger Control

At play and at school, children learn from their social experiences. They find out how wonderfully compatible – “He likes to build forts, too!” – yet how different we can be from others. The differences can create conflict.

Six-year-old Max feels his temper rising while playing with a friend. “YOU make me mad!” he blurts, throwing down a toy. The words squarely – and conveniently – blame a classmate for his behavior. But truthfully, no one controls a puppet string that forces him to shout or act out. Even adults sometimes revert to the “YOU make me shout!” style of handling conflict.

As children grow, they need to learn how to calm themselves and verbalize feelings appropriately. When Max can say, “I feel angry when you won’t play my favorite game,” instead of “YOU make me mad!” he has learned something important about anger control. He understands that no one else has the power to make him shout or hurt others.

Liz, the character in my book, first blames her sister for her behavior. “You make me scream and shout!” she cries. Young readers will learn with Liz, who soon discovers that her sister doesn’t have a magical way to turn a kid into a fire-breathing dragon. Liz learns to tame her internal dragon, and your child can as well.

Help Kids Build ‘Feelings Vocabulary’

Remember the good old days, when you lived at home with siblings? You shared fun together, going for bike rides and playing games. You may also recall fighting over the front seat, calling your sister ‘knucklehead,’ or having your hair pulled.

Well, the nature of conflict hasn’t changed much. Now you’re a parent, and your goal is to help your child learn healthy ways to communicate and control anger. Using calm words and considering consequences doesn’t come naturally, so kids need our guidance. Start by introducing your child to the character Liz, a girl who gets mad at her little sister. When angry, Liz shouts and throws toys. Children will learn with Liz as she finds new ways to manage her anger and restore peace.

It helps kids to watch my story character calm herself, think before she acts, and use fair words. Literature that helps readers find healthy solutions to problems is described as ‘bibliotherapy.’

My book includes an Activity Guide. Here’s an activity from the book that will help your child learn to identify and verbalize feelings.

Activity: Help Your Child Build a “Feelings Vocabulary”

Angry outbursts often start when a child feels embarrassed, disappointed, or sad. To help your child build a “feelings vocabulary, “ cut out pictures from magazines that show people who appear happy, sad, mad, excited, scared, and embarrassed. Paste the pictures on paper to make ‘feelings cards.’ When your child struggles, ask him to find a picture that matches his feeling and use words to describe the feeling.