Things do not change, we change.

- Henry David Thoreau

Learning about choices, consequences, and attitude is fun and it makes children feel good! They begin to feel strong, powerful, and determined to try for what they want. They begin to realize that they can hold on to what is important to them and they can reach for a goal. It helps children to realize that although they may not be able to change a situation, they can change and control the way they think about it, or the way they let a situation affect them.

My children, Dominic and Tiffany, accompanied me as I taught workshops for children. These workshops were with all ages and ranged from drug, alcohol, and violence prevention to summer camps on self-esteem and nature. While teaching K-6 summer camp at “Cobb Mountain,” a mountain retreat above San Francisco, one of our activities was a nature hike. The goal of the hike was for the children to notice the beauty and perfection in nature and relate it to their attitude on self-esteem and self-referral.

One week we were focusing on “speaking the sweet truth.” We were working on our choices to find or to see the positive or the negative in our environment. The children had each illustrated a story about a smelly, dirty, flea-bitten dog that happened to have “pearly-white teeth.”

During our walk one day, a dead deer lay in our path. The children gathered around it. Most started to cry, some said how terrible it looked, how sad life was that a deer would die, what a horrible bad day it was, what a stupid summer camp to have a dead deer, etc.

Then one child said, “Oh but look at its pearly-white teeth!”

There was silence. The atmosphere was alive with a shift in attitude. Suddenly another child said, “What a cute little tail it has.” Then all of the comments were about the deer’s pretty feet, its smooth shiny fur, and soft ears. One child said that the deer must have had a happy life living on such a beautiful green mountain. The entire focus had shifted to a more positive attitude.

We can use an unfortunate situation to learn from and to grow with.

  • Learning to make an attitude shifts is life altering. Circumstances are not an excuse for bad behavior, drugs or violence.
  • We do not have an excuse for negative behavior…because…we do have choices regarding our response.

Children enjoy stories about famous people who had difficult circumstances as children, yet went on to do something wonderful with their lives. Emphasize that these people did not use their circumstances as an excuse (Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.).

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

- Confucius


There are hordes of lonely neglected children left to fend for themselves. There are 5 million more poor children today then there were in 1973.

- Marion Wright Eddleman
President, Children's Defense Fund

When working with “at risk” children, giving them the skill of readjusting their attitude is essential. Talk about circumstances and problems briefly and in the context that, as a child, we may be temporarily in a situation where we cannot change our circumstances:

  • We cannot change other people.
  • We cannot make others behave, or speak a certain way.
  • We cannot change the way people treat each other.
  • We cannot influence our parent’s choice of friends or activities.
  • We are not responsible for our parent’s alcohol and drug use or our parent’s depression.
  • We cannot control where we live.
  • We cannot control how much money our family has.
  • We cannot keep our parents from getting a divorce or from fighting.
  • We are not responsible for our parents fighting or for their divorce.

Acknowledge briefly the things that we don’t have choices about. Give the majority of the attention and emphasis the choices that we do have. (Class Activity A).

  • No one can take away from us our choice of the quality of person we become.
  • We choose our character and integrity for ourselves.
  • We choose the quality of person we become.

Choices, Attitude, and Interpretation

  • Children become happier and more confident as they realize and discuss their choices.
  • We can make the children aware of how many choices they do have.

Dr. Atsuko Rees has an unusual quality of calm and silence. She has a gentle stabilizing influence in the midst of chaos. I asked her to share her ideas on children and attitude.

In order to give children the concept of choices we must help them appreciate who they are. The value of children appreciating themselves is that their self-image colors everything they do. Allow them to recognize their strengths and their weaknesses. Capitalize on their strengths so that children will develop their strong points further. In a loving, nourishing way, help them to work on their weaknesses. As their confidence grows they recognize and create more positive choices.

- Atsuko Reese, M.D.
Honolulu, Hawaii

The choices we do have are:

  • to choose our attitude, personal character, and values
  • to choose our interpretation of a situation
  • to choose our response

If I’m not sure which way to go, so many directions it seems.
I don’t give up, I don’t run and hide–I hold on to my dreams.
Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair, but when I fall I’ve got the power to bounce.
The point is not what life gives to us–it’s what we create from life that counts.

- "I've Got The Power To Change My Attitude" (song #2, Dianna)

When my son Dominic was in the fourth grade, I told him that his teachers were complaining about his penmanship, saying that they could not read his writing. He looked at me very thoughtfully, then cheerfully said, “Don’t worry Mom, its okay, there’s no problem. I can just be a doctor and they won’t have to read my writing.”

Conscience and attitude go together. The thing I have to remember is that I have to look at my face in the morning. I won’t always have to live with my job, but I’ll always have to live with my conscience.

- Frank Church, Idaho
U.S. Senate for 24 years

Developing a positive attitude is a process. We have to decide it’s the best way and do it! Complaining and accepting that it is a bad day won’t help. If a child is having an attitude problem, and is upset about something, they may think everything is messed up. I sit with them, we go through the day to locate what started the upset, and we talk about it. I have them tell me the feeling, and what happened that made them feel that way. Then we talk about what they will do next time the situation comes up. We make an attitude shift. We adjust the way the child is looking at it.

- Linda Smith

When I was a young child, we drifted back and forth between Nevada mining towns, Idaho farms, rodeos, ranches, seasonal harvests, etc. Our homes ranged from tumbledown deserted rustic sharecropper houses, to rows of cubicles in gray little mining towns. My mother was predictable when we moved to a new place. First, she would get a migraine, and then she would cry, for a long time. When her headache was better, she would get up, find her Johnny Cash music, turn it up real loud and sing as she painted the kitchen. Next, she would plant flowers. It didn’t matter how bad things were, she planted her flowers. The neighbors all sat around and complained about the ugly mining shacks. They complained about the dirt, weeds, and garbage around their front doors, while my mother watered the beautiful flowers she had planted around our door as she sang.

He who sings, frightens away his ills.

- Cervantes

Attitude or Aptitude

Among those with poverty and/or abuse backgrounds are Walt Disney, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. Aptitude is one thing, but without attitude the aptitude doesn’t go very far.

Galileo was a tailor in a factory before his attitude prompted him to reach for his potential.

Albert Einstein failed his college entrance exams, but his attitude would not allow him to give up.

He was ADD. He kept his address pinned inside his coat because he was forgetful and would frequently forget his address. His mind was constantly creating and exploring ideas. Details about his daily living, where, when, what, who, etc. got away from him. It was “Earth to Einstein!”

Winston Churchill had to retake the 8th grade 3 times. He struggled with severe mood swings.

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12th, 1809, in Kentucky. His father was a poor farmer and his family moved often between Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. He suffered severe mood swings.

1818 His mother died

1832 Lost his job and was defeated in the Legislature

1833 Failed in business

1834 Elected to Legislature

1835 His sweetheart died

1836 Had a nervous breakdown

1838 Defeated for Speaker of the House

1842 Married Mary Todd

1843 Defeated for nomination to Congress

1846 Elected to Congress

1848 Lost his nomination for Congress

1849 Rejected for Land Officer

1854 Defeated for Senate

1856 Defeated for nomination for Vice President of the United States

1858 Defeated in a bid for Senate

1860 Elected President of the United States

Is it Attitude or Aptitude?

Ruby Ferguson, is a remarkable, dynamic woman. We have had so much fun talking about her use of this curriculum in Texas. She walks her talk with her natural and loving attitude towards children and all human beings. Ruby feels that everyone is valuable and unique in their own way. Her work with children throughout Texas reveals many examples of the impact she has made in other people’s lives. Ruby and her co-workers designed a community presentation using this curriculum, with skits, dancing, singing, and celebrating with the audience. She also uses this program in her classrooms and various other schools in Texas. Ruby sent me a great video of her Texas kids using this program as a stage presentation and a community project.


Every child, every person is someone valuable and unique. Every single child deserves the opportunity to be inspired to change and to become their best…and to discover that the strength and the power lies within them to be and to do anything.

I have seen children change from screaming and violent behavior to a stable, orderly, and even caring group of children within three weeks. I use the secret ingredient of love and positive affirmation to inspire children.

Every person deserves the opportunity for change and to develop the highest and best in themselves.

I have loved Dianna’s work, her musical curriculum. The kids love it! This program has heart. It is love in action. It is so easy to teach and it works.

- Ruby Ferguson, B.S.R.N.
Coordinator of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Houston, Texas

Thomas Edison had the ability to adjust his attitude in difficult circumstances. His thinking was expansive. Poverty and hard work influenced his childhood. He was criticized and mistreated because of his unusual “unrealistic” ideas and unpredictable creativity, daydreaming and lack of focused attention.

When his teacher called him “addled and not capable of learning,” judging him as mentally handicapped, his mother home-schooled him. He was not even accepted or allowed to attend school. He went on to become the greatest and most prolific inventor of his time, holding 1,300 U.S. and foreign patents for his life’s work.

I know that everything is possible, I can do it, yes, I can.

I’m special, creative and intelligent; I can decide what I become and who I am.

Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair, but when I fall I’ve got the power to bounce

The point is not what life gives to us, it’s what we create from life that counts

- "I've Got The Power To Change My Attitude" (song #2, Dianna)


While working in Debbie Dowler’s fifth grade classroom, I noticed an unusually positive attitude in the children. There was a lot of joy in her classroom, and an element of mutual respect. She created that joy with her vibrant, warm personality and her obvious habit of fairness and caring. I noticed a couple of children in detention and they were very cheerful about it. They were self-disciplined in the acceptance of their consequences.

The kids know going into my class they do have a choice. They always have a choice, but with the choice they choose, they do have a consequence. They know the consequence right up front. This prevents fighting with the children. This helps avoid power struggles. Adults lose with a power struggle. Even if an adult asserts power and technically wins, in reality the adult loses.

Adults lose the respect of the child because the adult may have won only because they are bigger and have the power. Children are aware of what is fair. It is vitally important to them. I make it as fair as possible. My kids know the consequence of their actions.

We discuss actions and consequences, they are agreed upon democratically, written down and posted on the classroom wall. The first week of school I ask them:

What rules do we have to have in here so you can?

1. Learn
2. Get along with each other

The rules they come up with cover my needs. If it’s a safe learning environment, then the teacher can teach. Tell them they’re great and watch them. They will believe they are.

Have faith in the kids, and they will prove you right.

- Debbie Dowler, M.Ed., 5th Grade Teacher, Science Mentor
California Science Teachers Association; Co-Founder of Tustin Eastern Senior League

Excerpt from Bully Prevention Character Development Program © – Dianna L. Pappas-Marchese