Adults can use resources to help children build their own asset

February 25, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

All parents want their children to succeed. If a recipe for success existed, we'd buy all the ingredients and make sure our pantries were stocked with extras.

In an attempt to discover why some young people succeed and others fail, the Search Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis, Minn., has used research to formulate 40 "building blocks" or essential developmental assets that help all kids succeed.

When most people hear the word assets, they think of their house, car or investments. In this case, the word assets doesn't refer to things.

"It means the good things in your life, not possessions," says Pamela Espeland, co-author of the Adding Assets series of books for kids.


Some of the assets identified by the Search Institute are external - they come from outside a person. Do I have adults I can depend on? Am I valued by my community?

Others are internal - they come from the inside. Do I have hope for the future? Am I motivated to do well in school?

"What I really liked about the assets when I first saw them is that they seem like common sense," says Espeland, who has co-authored with Elizabeth Verdick four self-help books for children ages 8 to 12.

The first two books, "Helping Out and Staying Safe: The Empowerment Assets" and "People Who Care About You: The Support Assets," were published in 2004. The next two, "Doing and Being Your Best: The Boundaries and Expectations Assets" and "Smart Ways to Spend Your Time: The Constructive Use of Time Assets," are being released this year.

The books are designed to help children build their own assets.

"Many young people don't have adults looking out for them as carefully as we wish they would," Espeland says. "We're giving kids the ability to help themselves. The more assets you have, the less likely you are to get into trouble."

While building assets for young people is primarily an adult responsibility, children can make progress on their own.

Beginning around 8 years old, children can develop an awareness that it matters who their friends are. They can think about why it's important to have friends who respect them, care about them and listen to them.

They can become mindful of how they spend their time. They can think about choices: Perhaps reading a book is a better choice than playing a video game.

They can become involved and active in their families. They can help plan small parts of family functions, such as reunions or picnics.

They can be motivated to do well in school if the adults in their lives clearly communicate that learning is valued. They should be encouraged to relate what they're learning to real-life situations.

They can begin to bond with their school. Part of bonding to the school involves knowing that someone in school cares about them.

They can learn how to plan ahead and make choices. They should be encouraged to keep track of assignments and activities on a calendar or planner.

They can learn how to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. They can learn that there are consequences for their behavior. If their dirty clothes aren't put in the hamper, they will run out of clean clothes to wear.

They can begin to act on their convictions and stand up for their beliefs. They can be challenged to make their actions match their words.

They also can learn to seek out adults who will help them develop these assets, one step at a time.

For more information about the Adding Assets series of books, go to on the Web. For more information about the Search Institute, go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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