August 4, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: Giving Kids a Conscience

by Colleen Bryant

Age 42. Portland, OR

Personally and professionally, my purpose is the same. I teach children to make good choices for the right reasons. I teach them that they are part of something greater than themselves and that the greatest reward comes from knowing they’ve done the right thing in their hearts. It feels a bit pompous to write it like that. But it all started from a very practical place.
I quit the corporate world after a decade in marketing. I was raising two step-children and two biological children, all under 10, and quickly realized I’d signed up for something that would have more of an impact on the world than the best brochures I’d ever created.  You see, bringing up children is not all wiping snot and passing out fruit snacks. The truly challenging part about raising kids is teaching them how to be decent human beings.

You see, bringing up children is not all wiping snot and passing out fruit snacks. The truly challenging part about raising kids is teaching them how to be decent human beings.

Every child lies. Every child can be mean. And every last one of them will do something that makes you think, “What on Earth were you thinking?” Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility, I looked to parenting experts—and got really frustrated. At the time, parenting was dominated by rewards-based discipline. “Are your kids being mean to each other? Set up a rewards chart that gives them points for saying nice things to each other.” Well guess what, my kids just gamed the system. They said nice things to get the reward, not because they were learning to be kind from their hearts.

At that point I decided we needed a better way. The kids needed to know what a conscience was. They needed to know that even if no one else knew what they did, they knew on the inside. They needed to know that being honest felt better in their hearts than lying. They needed to know they helped set the table before dinner because a family is a team and we help each other out of kindness and responsibility, not because we want something. They needed to know that even if a friend was unkind, retaliation didn’t feel as good as knowing you rose above the negative situation.

The kids needed to know what a conscience was. They needed to know that even if no one else knew what they did, they knew on the inside. They needed to know that being honest felt better in their hearts than lying.


Before long, I had a set of phrases we said around the house: “There’s the easy way and the right way.”; “Right now is a great time to make a good choice.”; “Ask yourself ‘What if?’ If the answer is you’re going to hurt yourself, hurt someone else, or make your momma mad, you better rethink it.”

It was working. The kids started making choices based on the impact they had on others. You could see the struggle on their faces sometimes, that moment of choosing between easy deceit or honesty. You could feel their disappointment in themselves as they accepted consequences for bad choices. Sure they still made (and make) mistakes—it’s how we grow. But all in all, they were growing into people with self-respect, not just self-esteem.

This was all well and good until the kids’ friends came over. And that’s when I realized that other parents and teachers struggled with the same issues. Life lessons are universal and we could all use some helpful wisdom to raise good kids. Long story short, I personified some wise, old trees and created the Talking with Trees book series (TalkingTreeBooks.com).

Through picture books and free character education teaching materials, the series teaches lessons in honesty, respect, responsibility and more good traits. Today thousands of people download the free content every month. I don’t make money at it, but that’s not the point. If one more child in the world learns that “Well he did it first!” doesn’t feel as good in his heart as “I’m sorry. I should have thought that through,” then I have fulfilled a worthy purpose.

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